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Contamination and Care Delayed

The response to finding contaminants at National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center might have delayed care for a number of patients, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In 2015, regulators uncovered fungal contaminants within vials of albumin at a clinical center's pharmacy. This prompted National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins to launch an internal investigation. That inspection uncovered additional instances of contamination, at a National Cancer Institute laboratory working on producing cell therapies and a National Institute of Mental Health facility that develops positron emission tomography materials.

But Collins' approach, which the Journal notes follows standard management advice of acknowledging and addressing an issue, might have "boomeranged." A number of clinicians and researchers there tell the Journal that it was an overreaction. In addition, they said the taskforce report — which said that the emphasis on research eclipsed clinical needs — has marred the Clinical Center's reputation and led to a decline in patients there. It's also decreased morale, the Journal adds.

Researchers there also argue that it's delayed treatment for patients. Collins had also ordered a review of NIH labs making sterile and aseptic therapies for people and the center's specialty pharmacy remains closed, the Journal writes, noting that that has affected ongoing trials.

"This has not only set back our science and our protocols, it has delayed cancer patients' treatment by a year and a half," researcher Jay Berzofsky tells the Journal. "For a cancer patient, treatment substantially delayed is treatment denied."

The Journal notes that this might also hurt Collins' prospects of remaining NIH director with the new administration.