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Senator pushes transparency in federal health research

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Sen. Chuck Grassley asked the Office of Management and Budget this week for internal communications that could show who is trying to limit a rule that would require federally-funded health researchers to disclose their corporate ties.

A recent article in Nature magazine said that OMB, which is reviewing the proposal, is gutting the rule of the requirement that researchers’ outside financial interests be posted on a publicly available website, instead allowing institutions to choose their own disclosure methods.

That will likely to make it much harder for members of the public to find these details, Ned Feder, a senior staff scientist with the Project on Government Oversight, told Nature. 

The rule, proposed by the Health and Human Services Department in May 2010, would require research institutions to determine potential conflicts of interest grant by grant, such as whether the doctor owns shares in a company that could bias his or her federally funded research.   

The rule would apply to HHS’s National Institutes of Health, which received $32 billion in the President’s proposed 2012 budget. More than 80 percent of that is dedicated for research.  

In his former seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley, R-Iowa, found instances where researchers were receiving money from the federal government to study drugs from companies to which they also had financial ties.

Grassley, now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in his Aug. 4 letter that removing the public posting requirement “flies in the face of President Obama’s call for more transparency in the government.” 

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