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NCI OFFICIAL's POSSIBLE CONFLICT OF INTEREST WITH PFIZER AND DEGUSSA/ASTA

Executive Summary

NCI OFFICIAL's POSSIBLE CONFLICT OF INTEREST WITH PFIZER AND DEGUSSA/ASTA Pharma Corp. has resulted in his reassignment to a "non-supervisory, non-managerial position," National Cancer Institute Acting Deputy Director Richard Adamson stated in a Dec. 28 letter to the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee. The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dingell (D-Mich.) has been investigating Prem Sarin's relationships with Pfizer and Degussa/Asta Pharma Corp. for the last several months. "Based on the very serious nature of the possible violations, on Dec. 21 Dr. Prem Sarin was removed from his position as Deputy Chief, Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology, and reassigned to a non- supervisory, non-managerial position," Adamson's letter states. Sarin was in charge of administering grants and contracts for the lab, which is headed by Robert Gallo and is a center of NIH's AIDS research activities. NCI's response followed a Dec. 13 letter from subcommittee Staff Director Michael Barrett asking NCI Director Samuel Broder to "identify all collaborations, agreements or other business relationships between the Degussa/Asta Pharmacia Corporation or the Pfizer Corporation and the National Cancer Institute." The NCI letter does not detail the nature of the possible violations but notes that it "is unclear whether all of the collaborations [between the firms and the laboratory] received the necessary approvals then in place." It adds that "an evaluation" undertaken of Sarin's collaborations with Degussa and Pfizer on Dec. 19 revealed that "Dr. Sarin may have violated the criminal conflict of interest statutes in Title XVIII, U.S. Code and the National Institutes of Health and Department of Health and Human Services standards of conduct in 1987 and possibly other times." Dingell also inquired about Pfizer or Degussa grants to an organization entitled the Foundation for the Advancement of Education in Science. Adamson stated that "a grant to FAES from Pfizer to support a post-doctoral fellow and other research needs of LTCB [the NCI lab] was approved" by NIH. Adamson's letter also advises that "it is our understanding that the [HHS] Inspector General will review this matter." Under HHS regulations, Sarin has two weeks to respond to the suspension proposal. The investigation of Sarin is only the most recent problem faced by the NCI laboratory. Gallo is currently the subject of investigation by NIH's Office of Scientific Integrity, as is a former lab virologist, Mikulas Popovic. Last year, Syed Zaki Salahuddin, an AIDS researcher, resigned and pleaded guilty to two felony charges for diverting some of the lab's business to a Rockville-based company, Pan-Data Systems, which employed his wife. He was sentenced in October to three years probation, 1,750 hours of community service and a $ 12,000 fine.
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