Research Ethics Roundup: Congress Reviews Regulatory Compliance Costs, Why the Fogarty International Center Matters, USDA Sued Over Animal Welfare Records, Negotiating Drug Prices with Human Subjects

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup reviews a Congressional hearing on reducing overhead payments for research oversight, highlights doctors’ arguments for saving the Fogarty International Center at the National Institute of Health (NIH), discusses legal challenges faced by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over their decision to delay reposting animal welfare records, and outlines a proposal that allow human subjects to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry on drug pricing issues.

House Science Panel Joins Trump in Questioning Research Overhead Payments
Jeffrey Mervis reports for Science on a recent Congressional hearing in which representatives reviewed the Trump administration’s proposal to sharply reduce the overhead payments the federal government pays to universities to cover facility and administration costs including regulatory compliance matters such as the cost of maintaining ethical oversight for research conducted with animals and human subjects. Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) cautioned that those seeking to cut indirect costs should avoid a “race to the bottom…with prizes to the lowest bidder doing the least valuable research.”

Preserving the Fogarty International Center – Benefits for Americans and the World
In this New England Journal of Medicine Perspective piece, Paul K. Drain, Ramnath Subbaraman, and Douglas C. Heimburger warn against any future budgetary cuts to the Fogarty International Center  at NIH as the Center is a leader in international health research. The physicians also argue that Fogarty’s work is important for public health efforts in the United States as the center focuses on “disease threats that transcend borders” and has allowed American scientists to work with their overseas counterparts on diseases like Zika and Ebola.  

Activists Battle US Government in Court Over Making Animal Welfare Reports Public
Meredith Wadman reports for Science on the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit against USDA over its February decision to remove from its public website inspection reports and warning letters issued to animal facilities that the department oversees. USDA has since reposted most of their records on research facilities but almost none of their records covering over three thousand dealers that supply animals, not only for the pet trade but also for research purposes.

Clinical Trial Participants Should Have a Say In New Drug Pricing
In this STAT First Opinion article, Spencer Phillips Hey argues that people who volunteer to test new drugs are “donating their bodies, and in some cases their lives,” and as such their opinions on how the drug is ultimately priced should be taken into consideration. He believes price negotiations could be added to the  informed consent process, but recognizes that drug companies are unlikely to agree to such an approach and that an act of Congress would be needed.