WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has ordered ahearing for March 11 to find out why The Scripps ResearchInstitute (TSRI) has been reluctant to hand over documents herequested regarding TSRI's contract with Swiss pharmaceuticalgiant Sandoz.
Sandoz last year agreed to give TSRI, which is funded primarilyby the National Institutes of Health, $300 million over 10 yearsin return for the first right of refusal to commercializedevelopments that arise during the agreement. NIH DirectorBernadine Healy was unaware of the deal until it was disclosedat a congressional hearing earlier this month.
Directed by Wyden to obtain the information, Healy told thecongressman last week that she was having trouble getting thecontract from Scripps, according to Steve Jennings, staffdirector of the Subcommittee on Regulation, BusinessOpportunities and Small Business, chaired by Wyden.
"My understanding," said Jennings, "is that she was ratherheated over this turn of events and desired a forum to talkabout this stuff. That's one of the reasons we are going to havea hearing. We expect to hear from her as well as Scripps. We'veinvited Sandoz, and there ought to be one or two otherwitnesses."
But according to NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky, "Scripps is notbeing uncooperative. They have shown some reluctance (tohand over the contract). It's not as if they failed to meet anydeadlines; no deadlines have been imposed."
William Beers, senior vice president at Scripps, wrote a letter toSen. David Pryor, D-Ark., on Thursday describing thecharacterization of stonewalling as "completely inaccurate." Hesaid, "Representatives of TSRI met (on Feb. 12) with officials ofthe NIH to address issues raised by the request and to developa mutually satisfactory means for responding."
Scripps major concern, Beers said, had been "NIH's admittedinability to assure that confidential information contained inthe agreement would be protected from public disclosure. TSRIexpects to provide a written response within a week."
"Why should NIH have to ensure confidentiality?" asked LisaGrove Donovan, Wyden's press secretary on Thursday. "We aretalking about a billion dollars in government funds over theperiod of the agreement. From the taxpayers' perspective, thisseems like a leveraged buyout, except what they are buyingout is the government."
"If they are, in fact, refusing to hand over copies of theagreement," Wyden said Wednesday, "I think that federalfunds ought to be withheld until the documents are produced.Scripps may have a constitutional right to become the Sandozlaboratory, but Scripps has no right to make Sandoz theAmerican taxpayers' favorite charity."
-- David C. Holzman Special to BioWorld
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