2:55 PM
Apr 13, 2018
 |  BC Extra  |  Politics & Policy

Collins responds to criticism of HEAL Initiative

NIH Director Francis Collins responded Friday to concerns from an NIH advisory committee regarding private sector involvement in the recently announced HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative to address the opioid abuse epidemic. In a statement, Collins said the opioid crisis "is beyond the scope of any one organization or sector" and should include contributions from biopharmaceutical companies.

On April 4, Collins revealed the launch of HEAL, which will develop and test treatment models and conduct research to integrate behavioral interventions with medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. The initiative includes a longitudinal study of patients following onset of pain and after surgery as well as public-private partnerships to develop new non-addictive pain medicines (see BioCentury Extra, April 4).

In response, the committee's report criticized inclusion of pharmaceutical companies in the initiative, saying "there are certain ethical and reputational risks associated with accepting" financial or scientific contributions from "companies that may have contributed to the opioid crisis." The group was charged with reviewing appropriate ethical boundaries for engaging with and accepting resources from biopharmaceutical companies, including those that manufacture opioids.

The committee recommended that only federal funding be used to support research. Additionally, NIH should not accept funding from companies involved in opioid litigation and should not allow those companies to be involved in governance or decision making in the initiative.

The report said public-private partnerships to address the opioid crisis must undergo "additional scrutiny and risk mitigation," and advocated for increased transparency measures in funding, research and governance of the initiative.

Collins said on Friday he appreciated the committee's views and would take its recommendations into consideration, but noted biopharmaceutical companies can add "unique skills and assets" to the initiative. Collins added that "any partnerships that NIH does establish with biopharmaceutical organizations as part of the HEAL Initiative will be done with the utmost transparency."

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