NIH Raises Concerns About Foreign Influence in Biomedical Research
NIH Raises Concerns About Foreign Influence in Biomedical Research

NIH Raises Concerns About Foreign Influence in Biomedical Research

Information made public by US Senator Chuck Grassley reveals that a handful of allegations have recently been referred to federal investigators.

Feb 8, 2019
Catherine Offord

WIKIMEDIA, CHRIS SPIELMANN

The National Institutes of Health has referred several allegations regarding foreign influence in biomedical research to federal investigators, according to a letter written by Daniel Levinson, inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The document, which was published online by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) earlier this week (February 6), provides no specific information about the content of the allegations, but notes that most of the 12 recent referrals involve NIH-funded investigators at US universities who had failed to disclose foreign affiliations on grant applications.

“Foreign threats to our taxpayer-funded research and American intellectual property must be taken seriously,” Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says in a statement. “The inspector general’s diligent work is a testament to that and further congressional oversight will provide some much-needed transparency to make sure these concerns don’t fall by the wayside.”

Grassley, who has long been pushing for greater oversight of foreign influence, had requested the information from Levinson in a January 17 letter against a backdrop of growing concern that non-US countries may be taking advantage of US-funded research.

NIH director Francis Collins acknowledged this concern in a letter sent to around 10,000 of the agency’s grant-receiving institutions last August. “NIH is aware that some foreign entities have mounted systematic programs to influence NIH researchers and peer reviewers,” he wrote.

He added that the agency expected grantee institutions “to work with your faculty and with your administrative staff to make sure that, in accordance with the NIH Grants Policy Statement, all applications and progress reports include all sources of research support, financial interests, and relevant affiliations.”

Levinson’s letter also reveals that his office has referred two cases, neither of which appear to be related to the NIH, to prosecutors at the Justice Department. One of the cases concerned a failure to disclose financial links to a foreign power, and the other, intellectual property theft. The Justice Department “declined to pursue action in both matters,” Levinson writes.