Healthcare Business News

Grassley questions grant to sanctioned researcher

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: May 29, 2012 - 5:45 pm ET

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has written a letter to Dr. Francis Collins (PDF), director of the National Institutes of Health, asking why a researcher who had previously been penalized by the NIH for failing to disclose financial conflicts of interest received another NIH grant worth roughly $2 million.

Grassley is questioning the award of a five-year grant worth almost $402,000 annually to investigate “psycho-biological” risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder to Dr. Charles Nemeroff at the University of Miami (Fla.) School of Medicine.

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Nemeroff was the chairman of the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at Emory University in Atlanta and leading a $9.3 million NIH-funded study on depression when it was uncovered that he had received more than $800,000 from drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline for 250 speaking engagements between January 2000 and January 2006 and other income that he had not disclosed.

The NIH grant was suspended and Nemeroff subsequently left Emory and was hired at Miami. In his letter to Collins, Grassley also copied the University of Miami's president, former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala.

In his letter, Grassley noted that Nemeroff was the subject of a U.S. Justice Department probe and asked if Collins was aware of that.

“If so, why did NIH decide to award this grant anyway?” Grassley asked in his letter.

He also asked for the names of those who peer-reviewed the grant application and if they were aware of Nemeroff's potential conflicts of interest and the federal investigation of him. “If not, why not?” Grassley asked.

“It's troubling that NIH continues to provide limited federal dollars to individuals who have previously had grant funding suspended for failure to disclose conflicts of interest and even more troubling that the administration chose not to require full, open and public disclosure of financial interests on a public website,” Grassley said in the letter.

An NIH spokeswoman said that Collins will be responding to Grassley's letter.

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