Government Scientist Pleads Guilty to Accepting Pfizer Fees

The chief of the geriatric psychiatry branch of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Pearson Sunderland III, has pleaded guilty to accepting approximately $300,000 in undisclosed fees and expenses from Pfizer between 1997 and 2004. The NIMH is a part of the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health (NIH), which conducts and funds medical research projects. NIH staff are permitted to earn external income, subject to disclosure and approval from ethics watchdogs. Matthew Dolan reports that "in late 1997, representatives of Pfizer approached Sunderland about his agency joining a scientific collaboration" on indicators for Alzheimer's disease. Sunderland is only one of 44 NIH scientists that have had undisclosed financial deals with drug companies. However, he is one of the few to face charges with most either disciplined or retired from the agency. Sunderland's lawyer, Robert F. Muse, claimed that many NIH staff viewed disclosure forms as "a bureaucratic nuisance."