According to a nonprofit government watchdog, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and hundreds of its experts, including the agency’s recently departed head, Dr. Francis Collins, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, received an estimated $350 million in secret royalties.
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“We estimate that up to $350 million in royalties from third parties were paid to NIH scientists during the fiscal years between 2010 and 2020,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of Open the Books, in a phone news conference on May 9.
“We draw that conclusion because, in the first five years, there has been $134 million that we have been able to quantify of top-line numbers that flowed from third-party payers, meaning pharmaceutical companies or other payers, to NIH scientists.”
According to him, the first five years, from 2010 to 2014, account for 40% of the total.
“We now know that there are 1,675 scientists that received payments during that period, at least one payment. In fiscal year 2014, for instance, $36 million was paid out and that is on average $21,100 per scientist,” Andrzejewski said.
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“We also find that during this period, leadership at NIH was involved in receiving third-party payments. For instance, Francis Collins, the immediate past director of NIH, received 14 payments. Dr. Anthony Fauci received 23 payments and his deputy, Clifford Lane, received eight payments.”
After 12 years as director of the National Institutes of Health, Collins stepped down in December 2021. Fauci is the longtime director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health, as well as President Joe Biden’s main medical adviser. Lane is the NIAID’s deputy director, reporting to Fauci.
According to a fact sheet (read below) published by Open the Books, the top five NIH employees in terms of the number of royalty payments they received while on the government payroll are Robert Gallo, National Cancer Institute, 271 payments; Ira Pastan, National Cancer Institute, 250 payments; Mikulas Popovic, National Cancer Institute, 191 payments; Flossie Wong-Staal, National Cancer Institute, 190 payments; and Mangalasseril Sarngadharan, National Cancer Institute, 188 payments.
According to Open the Books, only Pastan is still working at NIH.
“When an NIH employee makes a discovery in their official capacity, the NIH owns the rights to any resulting patent. These patents are then licensed for commercial use to companies that could use them to bring products to market,” the fact sheet reads.
“Employees are listed as inventors on the patents and receive a share of the royalties obtained through any licensing, or ‘technology transfer,’ of their inventions. Essentially, taxpayer money funding NIH research benefits researchers employed by NIH because they are listed as patent inventors and therefore receive royalty payments from licensees.”
Andrzejewski reminded reporters that the Associated Press covered the NIH royalty payments comprehensively in 2005, including detailed facts regarding who received how much out of which payers for what work, which the agency is refusing to release to Open the Books in 2022.
“At that time, we knew there were 918 scientists, and each year, they were receiving approximately $9 million, on average with each scientist receiving $9,700. But today, the numbers are a lot larger with the United States still in a declared national health emergency. It’s quite obvious the stakes in health care are a lot larger,” Andrzejewski said.
He claims the materials Open the Books is acquiring are “heavily redacted,” with 300 pages of line-by-line data.
“These are not the files the AP received in 2005 where everything was disclosed—the scientist’s name, the name of the third-party payer, the amount of the royalty paid by the payer to the scientist,” Andrzejewski said. “Today, NIH is producing a heavily redacted database; we don’t know the payment amount to the scientist, and we don’t know the name of the third-party payer, all of that is being redacted.”
If the disclosure of the data may jeopardize a company’s commercial privileges, federal officials are permitted to redact material from FOIA responses.
According to Andrzejewski, the concealed royalty payments create intrinsic conflicts of interest.
“We believe there is an unholy conflict of interest inherent at NIH,” he said. “Consider the fact that each year, NIH doles out $32 billion in grants to approximately 56,000 grantees. Now we know that over an 11-year period, there is going to be approximately $350 million flowing the other way from third-party payers, many of which receive NIH grants, and those payments are flowing back to NIH scientists and leadership.”
According to the Associated Press, Fauci and Lane concurred that there was a conflict of interest in receiving the royalties, with Fauci claiming that he donated his profits to charity. Lane, according to Andrzejewski, did not do so.
Previously, the governing ethics financial disclosure form categorized royalty payments as revenue received from the National Institutes of Health, which meant beneficiaries were not obliged to report their payments on the form.
“If they are not, none of these payments are receiving any scrutiny whatsoever and to the extent that a company making payments to either leadership or scientists, while also receiving grants … then that just on its face is a conflict of interest,” he said.
Open the Books is a Chicago-based nonprofit government watchdog that obtains and posts trillions of dollars in spending at all tiers of government using federal and state freedom of information legislation.
The organization submitted a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for evidence of any payments made to NIH and/or current and past NIH staff by outside companies.
Because the NIH refused to answer to the FOIA, Open the Books is suing the agency for noncompliance with the law. Another nonprofit government watchdog, Judicial Watch, is representing Open the Books in federal court.
Read the document below: