A government watchdog has discovered that over 1,800 government scientists received 27,244 royalty payments from 2009 to 2016, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in a seven-year time span.
Fox News reports that the findings were the result of a lawsuit filed against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by OpenTheBooks.com. The watchdog had sued the NIH after the agency allegedly stonewalled their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. As a result, the NIH agreed to share their bookkeeping on royalties, although they redacted the total amount of individual payments, as well as the inventions, and the third parties who actually paid the royalties.
“Because those payments enrich the agency and its scientists, each and every royalty payment could be a potential conflict of interest and needs disclosure,” said Adam Andrzejewski, the founder of OpenTheBooks.com.
OpenTheBooks further discovered that at least 34 NIH scientists received over 100 payments each, with two of those scientists continuing to receive payments even after their deaths.
“Government scientists were paid by taxpayers and more taxpayer money funded the physical plant, tests, trials and more that helped develop the innovations,” Andrzejewski explained. “So, the fact that royalty payments essentially become inherited property of the scientist should lead to congressional reform.”
The controversy surrounding NIH royalties has led to criticism from members of Congress. In a letter written last month to the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said that “NIH still does not readily report royalty payments and it is unclear what protections exist to shield clinical trial volunteers from clinical trials approved by researchers that may have a financial interest in the drug or device in the trial.”
Another letter was sent to Acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabak, signed by multiple Republican senators, requesting information about “the degree to which government doctors and researchers have a financial interest in drugs and products they support,” and also as to “whether any relationship exists between federal grants awarded by NIH and royalty payments received by NIH personnel.”