Sanctioned Psychiatrist Gets First NIH Grant in 3 Years

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

A psychiatrist whose failure to disclose drug company income contributed to a furor over conflicts of interest in biomedical research has just received his first National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in 3 years.

Charles Nemeroff's lax reporting of at least $1.2 million in drug company payments to his employer, Emory University, and similar payments to other academic psychiatrists prompted a 2007 Senate investigation. Nemeroff stepped down as chair of psychiatry at Emory, and NIH suspended a $9-million grant he held for a depression study. In December 2008, Emory barred him from applying for NIH funding for 2 years.

A year later, Nemeroff moved to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. This prompted concerns because Emory's ban on NIH grants did not move with him. (Fueling the flames was a phone call in which National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) Director Thomas Insel apparently assured the University of Miami medical school dean that Nemeroff could seek NIH funding if he moved.)

NIH asked for input on how to handle this situation in a revision of its conflict of interest rules, but in final rules issued last summer it did not specifically address it.

Now Nemeroff is back in the fold of NIH-funded investigators. According to NIH's grants database, he has received a $401,675 a year, 5-year standard R01 grant from NIMH to study "psychobiological risk factors for PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]." The study is looking at genetic risk factors and doesn't appear to involve testing drugs.

The 2-year ban by Emory would have expired anyway. But Paul Thacker, a former staffer for Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who led the Senate investigation, says NIH itself had the authority to impose a longer ban. "This shows they're really not serious about the problem," Thacker says.

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