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New NIH conflict-of-interest rules: Better than the old rules?

The Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2011

There are new rules for financial-conflict-of-interest disclosure for scientific researchers who get grants from the National Institutes of Health. While the "vast majority of academic researchers" are already sensitive to conflicts and act with "the highest standards of integrity," the system "needs an additional layer of oversight" to protect against potential problems down the line, said Francis Collins, director of the NIH, on a conference call with reporters. The final rule, out from the Department of Health and Human Services today, generally sticks to the same framework as the current 1995 regulations, said Sally Rockey, deputy director of extramural research at NIH, on the call. But there are changes, including a lowering of the threshold at which investigators must report significant financial interests to their university or research institution, to $5,000 from $10,000. A financial interest counts as "significant" if it involves the investigator, his or her spouse or dependent children, and is related to any of the investigator's institutional responsibilities -- not just his or her research.