I don’t know what it is about the recent uptick in conflict issues but now the Washington Post has reported that federal prosecutors have charged a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health with conflict of interest for taking fees from a drug company that was involved with his government research. Dr. P. Trey Sunderland III is the first official in 14 years to be prosecuted for conflict of interest at the NIH. Sunderland accepted $285,000 in fees from Pfizer from 1998 to 2003 relating to research to identify chemical warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. (Note to Pfizer: I’m available for consulting.) Prosecutors contend that Sunderland took money from Pfizer without getting the required advance permission from the NIH and did not note the fees and additional expense reimbursements on annual NIH financial reports. Federal law prohibits officials from accepting outside compensation for their government duties.

His services for the company were intimately intertwined with his government duties. Sunderland led efforts for a material transfer agreement on behalf of the NIH, whereby his staff would collect and then pass the spinal-tap samples to Pfizer. As part of the research, Sunderland helped provide Pfizer with hundreds of government-owned tissue samples for analysis. About the same time, in early 1998, “Sunderland initiated negotiations with Pfizer to be paid as a consultant for his work on the same project,” according to the criminal filing.

Sunderland’s not alone. Congressional investigators found that 44 researchers had off-the-books relationships with drug and biotech companies. Conflicts of interest in the pharmaceuticals area may in the news quite a bit lately but they’re not new. I don’t think that it indicates any new trend or that the world going to hell in a handbasket. I think if you want to know the root of the issue, you need look no further than the bottom line for drug sales. The global pharmaceutical market is forecast to grow to $842 billion in 2010. Just the top 16 new blockbuster drugs in 2005 generated combined sales of $18.1 billion. These eye-popping numbers can put a lot pressure on the marketplace – some innocent, some not so innocent.

Sunderland, 55, could get up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

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  1. […] also: NIH Scientist Could Get Prison and $100K Fine Posted May 19th, 2008 by Stephen Albainy-Jenei in Conflicts of Interest, DOJ, Pharmaceutical | […]