A nonprofit recently reported that, since 2009, the National Institutes of Health and many of its scientists received an estimated $350 million in royalties for developing experimental treatments. Some kept the money, but Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that he donates royalties he receives to charity — a detail left out of some online posts about the payments.
In 2005, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Associated Press that he donates royalty payments he receives from the licensees of products he helped develop while working for the National Institutes of Health.
But that detail was not mentioned in a number of recent online posts about new reporting on royalties paid to Fauci and other NIH scientists since 2009.
Earlier this month, OpenTheBooks.com, a self-described government watchdog organization, reported on about 1,200 documents it obtained from the NIH. The documents reportedly show that, in the previous decade, the NIH and hundreds of the agency’s current and former researchers received tens of thousands of royalty payments from third parties for drugs and other treatments they invented.
“Recently, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com forced NIH to disclose over 22,100 royalty payments totaling nearly $134 million paid to the agency and nearly 1,700 NIH scientists,” Adam Andrzejewski, the group’s founder and CEO, wrote in a May 9 report. “These payments occurred during the most recently available period (September 2009 – September 2014).”
He said the group is still waiting to receive 1,800 pages of documents from the NIH about royalty payments from 2015 to 2020, but estimates that “between fiscal years 2010 and 2020, more than $350 million in royalties were paid by third-parties,” such as pharmaceutical companies, “to the agency and NIH scientists – who are credited as co-inventors” on NIH patents.
The payments are legal, but Andrzejewski argued that they represent a potential conflict of interest and should be fully disclosed to the public. But many details, such as who made the payments and the individual amounts, were redacted in the documents, he said.
“When a federal bureaucrat pops up on television giving us health instructions, who has paid them and for what research and technology?” he asked in his post. “When a patient agrees to a clinical trial or experimental treatment, what financial interests are involved?”
He added, “Rather than relentless redactions and prolonged court battles, it’s past time for the government to disclose royalty payments as a matter of routine.”
What the documents did reveal, Andrzejewski said, is that in the period from September 2009 to September 2014, Fauci received 23 royalty payments; Dr. Francis Collins, who was NIH director from 2009 to 2021, received 14 payments; and Dr. H. Clifford Lane, the NIAID deputy director for clinical research and special projects, received eight payments.
But the post on OpenTheBooks.com, which is titled “Fauci’s Royalties And The $350 Million Royalty Payment Stream HIDDEN By NIH,” never mentioned that Fauci has said he donates his royalties to charity. (That piece of information is mentioned in a separate fact sheet about the group’s investigation.)
Similarly, when actor and comedian Russell Brand read almost all of Andrzejewski’s original report in a 16-minute YouTube video that has over 1 million views since May 15, Brand also did not mention that Fauci said long ago that he does not keep the money he receives.
Instead, Brand said: “Well, there you go. Anthony Fauci, who was heralded as a saint, seems to me like he may have feet of clay. Seems to me that he may be fallible. Seems to me that he may accept payments.”
Also, a May 11 Epoch Times article quoted several Republican lawmakers criticizing Fauci because of the royalties. But the article did not add Fauci’s prior statements about not keeping the money.
Royalties paid to Fauci and other NIH scientists drew scrutiny at least once before, in 2005. The AP, based on information obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, reported that, in 2004, more than 900 current and former NIH researchers received royalty payments totaling $8.9 million for drugs and other inventions they developed while employed by the government.
“Government scientists have collected millions of dollars in royalties for experimental treatments without having to tell patients testing the treatments that the researchers’ had a financial connection, according to documents and interviews,” the AP said.
The news agency reported that Fauci and his deputy, Lane, had both received about $45,000 in royalties between 1997 and 2004 for interleukin-2, a potential AIDS treatment that they developed with another NIH physician, Joseph Kovacs.
“Both doctors said they were extremely sensitive about the possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest and took steps on their own to address it even as they waited for their agency to do what they believed should have been done all along — fully disclose the payments to patients,” the AP said.
Fauci told the AP that he tried to refuse the royalties, but was told by officials that he was legally obligated to accept the money. He also said he was told he should not disclose the payments on his federal financial disclosure, which is available to the public upon request, because the payments were considered federal compensation instead of outside income.
He said he opted to donate his royalties instead. “I’m going to give every penny of it to charity … no matter what the yearly amount is,” Fauci was quoted saying.
The AP said Lane kept the royalties he received, but occasionally provided patients with journal articles that noted he was listed on the patent for interleukin-2.
At the time, the NIH had only recently implemented a policy to disclose its scientists’ financial stakes to patients, the AP reported.
We are not able to confirm whether Fauci donated his past royalty payments as he said, nor did the NIH or NIAID say what Fauci’s practices are now.
In a statement to FactCheck.org, the NIH said: “Royalty payments to NIH inventors are considered income and NIH does not track how individual employee incomes are spent, beyond what falls under federal financial disclosure requirements.”
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Andrzejewski, Adam. “Fauci’s Royalties And The $350 Million Royalty Payment Stream HIDDEN By NIH.” OpenTheBooks.com. 9 May 2022.
“NIH Royalty Disclosures FY2010-FY2014.” OpenTheBooks.com. 9 May 2022.
“You Were Right.” YouTube. Uploaded by Russell Brand. 15 May 2022.
Solomon, John. “AP Exclusive: Federal researchers haven’t told patients about financial interest in experiments.” Associated Press via NBCNews.com. 10 Jan 2005.
Tanne, Janice Hopkins. “Royalty payments to staff researchers cause new NIH troubles.” BMJ. 2005 Jan 22.
National Institutes of Health. Email to FactCheck.org. 20 May 2022.