WASHINGTON — The expert hired by the National Institutes of Health last year to improve its research practices after problems in an AIDS drug study surfaced is seeking whistleblower protection after disagreements with management have left him on the verge of being fired.
Dr. Jonathan Fishbein, a 10-year expert on safe drug research practices in the private sector before joining NIH in summer 2003, has met with congressional investigators and provided extensive information about problems in NIH research.
NIH officials declined to discuss Fishbein, citing personnel privacy, except to say the move to fire him is based on his performance.
Fishbein, who is represented by the National Whistleblower Center, was told earlier this year he is being fired before he completes his two-year employment probation after a series of disputes with NIH managers over safety concerns in various AIDS research projects, according to his lawyer.
In one instance, Fishbein refused to discipline an employee for reporting safety concerns to the Food and Drug Administration, and another time he was overruled when he objected to restarting problematic research, documents show.
Attorney Stephen M. Kohn, who represents Fishbein, said NIH officials have a built-in conflict because they both fund the research and monitor safety.
“He found a system that was broken,” Kohn said. “There’s a tension at NIH. A tension between those doctors who want to push the clinical results, that want to publish, that want to take credit for major breakthroughs, and other doctors and professionals who want to adhere to the quality standards.”