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NIH RECOMBINANT DNA ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEMBERS' POTENTIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST SHOULD BE PUBLICLY DISCLOSED -- FOUNDATION ON ECONOMIC TRENDS PETITION

Executive Summary

The Foundation on Economic Trends is recommending that members of the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) should publicly disclose "relevant conflicts of interest," in a recent petition to National Institutes of Health Director Bernadine Healy, MD. Currently, committee members submit individual financial information to NIH's Office of DNA Recombinant Activities, but that information is not made public. FOET, which is headed by genetic engineering critic Jeremy Rifkin, alleges that "a proliferation of egregious examples of ethical improprieties committed by NIH personnel in the recent past demonstrates that the applicable statutes and regulations are not sufficient to prevent conflicts of interest and especially the appearance of conflict of interest." The petition specifically cites the recent resignation of James Watson, MD, formerly the head of NIH's center for genome research, whose financial holdings in several biotech firms were questioned prior to his departure. The petition also questions the appointment of former RAC Chairman Gerard McGarrity, MD, as VP-development at Gaithersburg, Md.-based Genetic Therapy Inc., whose activities include research in the recombinant DNA area. McGarrity, who left the committee in January, responded in a May 28 letter to Healy. "When I planned my career change," McGarrity said, "I made every attempt to carry it out in a totally open and honest manner, fully responsive to the spirit and the letter of applicable rules and regulations." The FOET petition was discussed at RAC's June 2 meeting, but the committee did not take a formal position on the conflict of interest issue. The disclosure issue also is addressed in legislation to amend the Federal Advisory Committee Act, sponsored by Sen. Glenn (D-Ohio). The bill, S 2039, would require all committee members to file a confidential statement disclosing their financial interests as prescribed in a guidance issued by the Office of Government Ethics.
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