The number of scientists who broke ethical requirement rules in their work with pharmaceutical companies was greater than previously thought, according to an internal review conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

Last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee identified 81 scientists hired by drug companies between 1999 and 2004 whose consulting agreements were not declared. The agreements reported by drugmaker Pfizer ranged from a minimum of $500 to a maximum of $517,000 over the five-year period, and typically involved several thousand dollars per scientist. Once notified of the discrepancies between NIH and drug company records, the NIH launched an internal review of the 81 individual scientists. Forty-four scientists were found to have violated one or more of three existing NIH rules – reporting the income, taking personal leave to do private work, and seeking prior approval for the arrangements. Thirty-six of the scientists are still employed at NIH and have been referred for possible disciplinary action – and nine of them have also been referred to the HHS Office of Inspector General for investigation of possible criminal violations. Thirty-seven scientists were cleared.

US representatives Joe Barton, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and John Dingell commended NIH director, Elias Zerhouni, for ongoing efforts to adopt a more stringent ethics policy [[19/04/05f]], but renewed calls for Congress to approve revised rules “to uphold proper ethical standards.”