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NIH Officials May Have Violated Policy by Soliciting Donations From Alcohol Industry for Alcohol Study

March 19, 2018

NIH Officials May Have Violated Policy by Soliciting Donations From Alcohol Industry for Alcohol Study

Public Citizen Urges HHS Inspector General to Launch Formal Investigation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General should immediately launch a formal investigation into the conduct of National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials who allegedly were involved in soliciting donations from the alcohol industry to fund a major study on alcohol consumption, Public Citizen said today.

The NIH study, which seeks to assess the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption, is being funded through a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). On March 17, The New York Times reported that officials with the NIAAA “waged a concerted campaign to obtain funding from the alcohol industry” for the study and paid “for scientists to travel to meetings with [alcohol industry] executives, where they gave talks strongly suggesting that the study’s results would endorse moderate drinking as healthy.”

The Times previously reported in July 2017 that five of the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers – Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg – had pledged at least $67.7 million to fund the study, which the study’s lead researcher denied having solicited.

The NIH Policy Manual “explicitly prohibits employees, either directly or through another party, from requesting or suggesting donations to the NIH or to any of its components, of funds or other resources intended to support activities,” Public Citizen’s letter to the HHS Inspector General points out.

“The conduct described by the Times appears to represent clear violations of the NIH policy,” the letter states. “It is well-recognized that research sponsored by industry consistently yields results favoring the interests of industry, despite researchers beliefs that they are immune to such influence.”

“We therefore urge your office to immediately launch a formal investigation into the matters described in the Times article,” the letter states.

“The fact that NIH accepted tens of millions of dollars from the alcoholic beverage industry to fund the alcohol study was bad enough,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “But the revelations that senior NIH officials orchestrated an aggressive campaign to solicit such industry funding in violation of longstanding NIH policy, if confirmed, clearly undermines public trust in the integrity of the study and is a stain on the NIH’s reputation.”