Shortly before the Senate Finance Committee began its probe into conflicts of interest among academic researchers who simultaneously receive NIH grants and pharma fees, Norka Ruiz Bravo, the NIH deputy director for extramural research, maintained the agency couldn't simply monitor such things.
To wit, she told The New York Times last March that “for us to try to manage directly the conflict-of-interest of an NIH investigator would be not only inappropriate but pretty much impossible.” She added that “I think (the system) is working to the extent that people are being honest and I think most people are honest.”
Since then, of course, she has been proven incorrect. The Senate Finance Commitee has uncovered several alleged examples of high-profile academics who failed to properly disclose industry payments, which is required by law. In a couple of prominent instances, Emory University's Charles Nemeroff stepped down as psychiatry department chair and Stanford University's Alan Schatzberg was replaced as the primary investigator on a grant.
Now, we learn that Ruiz Bravo is no longer in that job; she switched positions on October 31 and is now a special advisor to the NIH director. The news was announced in the e-mail below by departing NIH director Elias Zerhouni.
From: Exec Sec1 (NIH/OD) Sent: Friday, October 17, 2008 2:32 PM To: 'email@example.com'; OD-Senior Staff Cc: OD-Senior Staff Assistants Subject: From Dr. Zerhouni -- Change in Leadership for the NIH Office of Extramural Research
October 17, 2008
TO: IC Directors, OD Senior Staff FROM: Director, NIH SUBJECT: Change in Leadership for the NIH Office of Extramural Research Norka Ruiz Bravo, Ph.D. has announced that she will step down as NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research and Director, Office of Extramural Research (OER) in November. Dr. Ruiz Bravo will transition to a new role as Special Advisor to the Director, NIH.
I am pleased to announce that Sally J. Rockey, Ph.D., currently Deputy Director, OER, will serve as Acting Deputy Director for Extramural Research upon Dr. Ruiz Bravo’s departure. Dr. Rockey has served as the Deputy Director of OER since 2005. Her extensive experience and expertise in research administration will continue to serve NIH well in her new role, and I appreciate her willingness to guide the extramural community during the coming transition period. Dr. Ruiz Bravo has provided outstanding service to NIH and the biomedical research community in her capacity as NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research. Her leadership is evidenced by NIH’s continued success in this area. Dr. Ruiz Bravo has made critical contributions to the development and implementation of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research and many of its initiatives.
In addition, she played a leadership role in developing and implementing transforming NIH policies, such as the Public Access and the Multiple Principal Investigator policies, and eSubmission, the NIH transition from paper to electronic submission of applications.
She initiated the use of mathematical modeling to improve our understanding of the dynamics of the biomedical research workforce, and contributed greatly to the discussion and resulting programs to address the plight of new investigators. She catalyzed the development of the RePort website for NIH data, and led the development of the Animals in Research Project, a proactive agenda to enhance communication about the importance of animal models in research and address the increasing use of violence against NIH-supported researchers who use animal models.
I am confident that Dr. Ruiz Bravo will continue to contribute her expertise and experience in her new role. Please join me in thanking and congratulating Dr. Ruiz Bravo and offering her best wishes in her new role, as well as offering Dr. Rockey full support as she guides OER in the coming period. Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.