House panel probes NIH's $40m grant to Harvard
Actions of ex-director, a candidate for president of school, spur questions
WASHINGTON -- A congressional committee is investigating whether the National Institutes of Health played favorites in awarding a $40 million contract to Harvard University.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is focusing on the actions of Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the NIH's National Cancer Institute, when he was a candidate to be Harvard's president and had disqualified himself from taking part in issues involving the university, according to letters sent to Harvard and NIH.
The letters say that information turned up during an initial review by committee staff "raises questions about whether Harvard University received favorable treatment," and that Klausner appears to have been part of the process that led to the Harvard award, despite his recusal. NIH spokesman John Burklow said yesterday that the NIH plans its own internal review of the questions raised by the committee. He said that the committee's letter had been received Monday, and that the NIH will continue to cooperate with the committee.
Klausner left the cancer institute in September 2001 and the award was not announced until March 2002, but the letters say that committee staff question whether the decision was effectively made during Klausner's tenure. Klausner, now executive director of global health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said he had no involvement in the award of the grant. "This is a totally baseless and surprising set of innuendoes," Klausner said in a telephone interview. The letters also say that after Klausner left the institute, he "may have benefited financially" from his relationship with a company he cofounded with Stuart Schreiber, the Harvard professor whose lab received the $40 million grant to build the Molecular Target Laboratory. That project, since renamed the Initiative for Chemical Genetics, is meant to help researchers find proteins linked to diseases and figure out ways to control them, according to Harvard's website.