A survey of scientists working at the National Institutes of Health in the USA reveals that 40% of them are considering leaving their jobs because new conflict-of-interest rules are too stringent.

The rules, designed to prevent researchers from cosying up to drug developers, seem to have had the opposite effect, with scientists now considering taking up positions in industry because they are unable to earn outside income.

The rules were introduced last year and include a number of restrictions, for example that top NIH researchers are unable to own share holdings in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies of more than $15,000 in value per company, with a total holding of no more than $50,000. There is also a blanket ban on taking consulting fees from industry.

The survey of 8,000 NIH employees included 512 whose work is directly involved with drug development. 39% of these said they had begun looking for a new job or were considering doing so because of the rules. Around 30% said they would limit the ability of the agency to function, and 75% said staff recruitment and retention would suffer as a result.

NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said that the survey "does suggest concerns about the impact of the regulations on recruitment and retention,” but added: "At this time we do not anticipate revisions in the regulations,” according to a report on Kaisernetwork.org.