For only the second time, the National Institutes of Health is applying pressure to a university over alleged conflicts of interest involving its researchers. The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, is reportedly being eyed for failing to comply with the agency's conflict of interest policy. Two years ago, the NIHsuspended a grant from Emory University and added new conditions on further grants.
The latest move was sparked by an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that pointed out several academics with alleged research conflicts, including Baylor's Christie Ballantyne, who received over $34,000 for consulting with Merck about its Vytorin cholesterol pill. This prompted US Senator Chuck Grassley to ask the NIH to investigate (see here), since Ballantyne was listed on several NIH grants concerning cardiovascular studies.
According to current NIH regulations, Baylor should have reported to NIH that Ballantyne received more than $10,000 from a company. Initially, Baylor officials said rules indicated there was no need to disclose the payments to the NIH, but they acknowledge they don't comply with NIH policies. Meanwhile, the NIH last month asked Baylor to conduct a review and placed new conditions on Baylor researchers, requiring documentation that all new grants comply with NIH policies, according to a Jan. 14 letter from NIH director Francis Collins to Grassley (here is the letter).
In the letter, Collins writes that Baylor's response to the NIH "raised serious concerns" and the NIH 'imposed special award conditions on all BCM (Baylor College of Medicine) grant awards until BCM can assure the NIH that the detected deficiencies...have been appropriately addressed." A Baylor spokeswoman tells Nature the university has begun recrafting policies to comply with NIH standards, which date to 1995. The NIH moves comes as agency considers lowering its annual disclosure threshold below $10,000, Nature adds.