A previous regulation only prohibited such relationships to upper-level employees. The ban has now been extended to all NIH staff.
Investments in companies that are significantly affected by the organization will also now be prohibited for employees that file financial disclosure forms, and will be restricted for other staff, under the new regulations. Non-filers' stock holdings in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies will now be capped at $15,000.
According to a statement from the NIH, the new ethics rules will take effect once they are published in the Federal Register -- most likely in the next few days -- and will remain in effect indefinitely. Still, they will be subject to revision by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which will solicit public comment on the new regulation during a 60-day period following its publication in the Register.
The NIH specifically stated that the new regulations were a direct result of the activities of some employees who had been engaged in outside consulting with biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Reports in the media last year, such as those chronicled in ProteoMonitor, a GenomeWeb News publication, that showed NIH employees receiving money from the very firms they are in a position to benefit led to congressional hearings, as well as the recent tightening of the ethics rules.
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said in a statement that the revised ethics regulations would "prevent the recurrence of past abuses and will go along way in preserving the historic role of NIH as the primary source of unbiased scientific health information for the country."