House Hearings Explore Conflict-of-Interest Issues
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations examined two ethics issues: participation of NIH employees in outside activities and receipt of lecture awards, in a hearing on May 18. The hearing focused on examples of lecture awards and outside activities as potential conflicts of interest - and changes in ethics policies now being implemented by NIH.
The first of two panels discussed several issues, including NIH employees' acceptance of monetary lecture awards and use of the Title 42 mechanism to recruit and retain scientists. NIH Deputy Director Dr. Raynard Kington testified on activities of the NIH Ethics Advisory Committee and specific steps currently underway to address ethical issues raised by Congress. This panel also responded to questions concerning a lecture award from the University of Pittsburgh to former NCI Director Dr. Richard Klausner.
The second panel included Dr. Lance A. Liotta, of the Section of Tumor Invasion and Metastases in NCI's Center for Cancer Research (CCR); Dr. J. Carl Barrett, Director, CCR; and Dr. Anna Barker, NCI Deputy Director, Advanced Technologies & Strategic Partnerships. Dr. Emanuel Petricoin, of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, also testified.
Legislators voiced concern about consulting agreements with Biospect, Inc., that were held until recently by Drs. Liotta and Petricoin. Drs. Liotta and Petricoin, through the FDA/NCI Clinical Proteomics Program, were the principal investigators on a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Correlogic Systems, Inc. This CRADA focused on the research and early development of proteomics patterns recognition as a potential approach for early detection of cancer. Both Drs. Liotta and Petricoin's agreements were approved by their respective ethics officers. Biospect was portrayed in the hearing as a direct competitor of Correlogic Systems.
Dr. Liotta testified on his 28-year NCI career, including his role as a pioneer in the FDA/NCI Clinical Proteomics Program. Committee members asked Dr. Barrett about overlap between Dr. Liotta's duties and his relationship with Biospect. He responded that there was language in Dr. Liotta's consulting agreement that clearly excluded any activity related to protein pattern recognition for diagnostic purposes, and specifically cited the scope of the CRADA. Dr. Liotta ended his consultancy once he learned that Biospect had stated their interest in this overlapping area. Dr. Barrett reiterated NCI's commitment to pattern-based diagnostics research, placing NCI's study findings into the public domain and proceeding with clinical testing of the technology.
Dr. Barker stated that the CRADA between NCI and Correlogic Systems was very successful, producing promising technology with potential application in cancer diagnostics. The parties have spent several months in discussion on strategies and approaches for a possible clinical CRADA focusing on the further development of the technology for ovarian cancer.