NIH investigating 'alarming' report on funding for alcohol study: official

NIH investigating 'alarming' report on funding for alcohol study: official
© Getty

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins said the agency is "aggressively" looking into reports that it solicited funding from the alcohol industry for a study on the benefits of moderate drinking. 

NIH officials directly solicited donations from alcoholic beverage manufacturers to fund a $100 million study on the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption, according to a recent New York Times story

ADVERTISEMENT

Public health advocates argue the fundraising violates NIH policy, which prohibits employees from soliciting or suggesting donations to support activities. 

"I am also very concerned about the materials that have been reported ... about these circumstances, which I agree are alarming," Collins said Wednesday during a congressional hearing on the NIH's budget request. 

"We are looking at this in a very aggressive way." 

He said NIH officials are still "digging deeper" to understand who was involved in approving the study, the nature of the communications with the alcohol industry and how decisions were made. 

He has also formed a working group to analyze the potential merits of such a study and if it justifies the investment. 

Some argue that moderate alcohol intake can be beneficial to one's health, he said, while others are concerned the study would show the NIH is endorsing substance abuse.

The New York Times reported last year that five of the world's largest alcohol manufacturers pledged at least $68 million to fund the study, but a Times story published earlier this month showed NIH officials actively campaigned for the funding, which could violate the agency's policy. 

Public health advocacy groups on Wednesday said the situation "undermines public trust in the NIH." 

“The fact that the NIH accepted nearly $70 million 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 shocking disclosures about senior NIH officials orchestrating an aggressive campaign to solicit such industry funding in violation of longstanding NIH policy, if confirmed, clearly undermines public trust in the NIH.”

Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisMarijuana activists arrested for smoking outside GOP lawmaker's office Interior to publish Zinke's calendars weekly Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Md.), a physician, said he doesn't consider the partnership to be inappropriate. 

"Why wouldn't we want to know with certainty [the effects of moderate alcohol consumption]?" he said during the hearing. 

"As long as you have the proper firewalls ... I don't think it's inappropriate to have this partnership."