Deafness Institute Director to Quit Over New NIH Rules

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

The new conflict of interest rules at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are driving one institute's director to leave. James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, told Science today that he has informed NIH officials that he plans to quit before the rules' provisions concerning investments take effect this fall.

Battey says he is unable to comply with the new rules--which prohibit senior employees, their spouses, and dependent children from owning any biomedical stock--because of a family trust fund. "I manage it on behalf of my whole family, and I can't abandon that responsibility," he says.

Although Battey has not yet resigned, NIH officials have removed him from his post as chair of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force. Battey says that when he told officials that he was looking for jobs outside NIH, they decided his search would cause potential conflicts of interest with his role on the task force--set up in 2002 to coordinate and encourage stem cell research at NIH within the Bush administration's restrictions (Science, 7 March 2003, p. 1509). Indeed, the California native confirmed that he is "one of many candidates" for a top position at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which will distribute the state's $3 billion Proposition 71 funding for stem cells and cloning.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that pulmonary researcher David Schwartz of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has said that the new rules were causing him to have second thoughts about taking the helm at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) on April 11. NIH deputy director Raynard Kington confirmed that Schwartz recently sent a letter to NIH director Elias Zerhouni describing his concerns, particularly about the stock rule. Schwartz referred a reporter to NIH, but said in an e-mail that he still plans to come to NIEHS and is "confident that my concerns can be addressed."

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