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The new supplemental ethics regulation announced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on February 1 has provoked both commendation and derision. Congressional representatives and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) have offered support and praise for the reform. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which conducted hearings in 2004 on possible conflicts of interest at the NIH, welcomed the new policy's promise of preserving the public's confidence in the NIH. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, commended the unambiguous nature of the reform.
AAMC President Jordan Cohen, MD, also praised the clarity of the regulations while also allowing for the possibility of unforeseen consequences. Speaking for the AAMC, Dr. Cohen strongly endorsed the NIH policy. Dr. Howard Garrison, director of public affairs for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, echoed the sentiments of several other organizations that will reserve their response until the official period of comment.
Initial reaction from NIH scientists during a town hall-style meeting on February 2 was somewhat less congratulatory, particularly in response to the provisions requiring divestiture. Eliciting applause from the participants of the meeting was one employee's protest of the potential financial harm that might be incurred by the selling of stock under such circumstances. Others questioned the need for the new regulation, arguing that the ability of the NIH to affect the marketability of private companies is overstated. Still other NIH employees objected to the perception that they were being held to a different standard than their colleagues in the private sector and in academia. The effect on attraction and retention of scientists at the NIH was also discussed. In particular, some expressed concern that the requirement for divestiture would discourage potential fellows and other short-term employees. In response, …
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