Washington Update

Senate Holds Hearing on Protecting U.S Biomedical Research from Undue Foreign Influence

By: Beth Oates
Thursday, May 6, 2021

On April 22, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing titled, “Protecting U.S. Biomedical Research: Efforts to Prevent Undue Foreign Influence.” The hearing focused on identifying federal strategies to prevent and address unjustifiable foreign influence, specifically in the federal grant process.

Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) opened the hearing by emphasizing the importance of biomedical research in the U.S. and the importance of scientific collaborations with other researchers around the globe. Senator Murray continued by acknowledging that while there are only a few researchers who fail to properly disclose conflicts of interest, these individuals put the entire U.S. biomedical research enterprise at risk.

Witnesses included Michael Lauer, MD, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), members of the Office of National Security and Office of Inspector General under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and representatives from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Each witness highlighted three key areas of concern related to foreign influence: (1) failure to disclose substantial resources from other organizations; (2) diverting proprietary information to other entities; and (3) difficulty in maintaining grant application confidentiality during peer review. To safeguard taxpayer-funded research and personnel from future outside threats, witnesses emphasized the need to focus on these areas of concern moving forward.

Dr. Lauer explained that a major challenge for NIH in addressing the threat of foreign influence is the personnel time and workload required to investigate claims. Dr. Lauer noted that NIH is currently investigating more than 500 cases and remains committed to improving intramural staff training to better identify conflicts of interest and other areas in which foreign influence can occur. Strengthening research and staff training reflects ongoing efforts between federal agencies to develop a national strategy for identifying possible threats and improve reporting of potential areas in which foreign interference can occur.

For more information about the hearing and proposed actions to protect scientific research from undue foreign influence, view the Senate HELP Committee’s webcast and the recent GAO report.