Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has reportedly told an advocacy group that scientists with financial ties to drug and device-makers may soon be allowed to advise U.S. regulators about those products. Speaking recently to Public Citizen in Washington, D.C., Hamburg said a 2008 conflict-of-interest policy limiting researchers who were paid by manufacturers from serving on FDA advisory panels is under review and may loosen by 2012. “We have to be sure FDA has subject-matter experts that we need for our important decision making,” she reportedly said, adding that FDA must also “prevent inappropriate influence or distortion of information” that may result in compromised reviews.

Some lawmakers and manufacturers have reportedly criticized FDA for reviewing products too slowly because committees lacked enough qualified members. According to FDA, 23 percent of all seats on the agency’s advisory committees went unfilled as of March 2011, with 608 positions occupied and 138 vacant. Among other changes also apparently under consideration would be the renewal of a law that allows the agency to receive fees from companies for product reviews, according to Hamburg. Public Citizen President Robert Weismann was quoted as saying that the rules should not be altered because financial ties influence how products are evaluated. “We need stronger protection rather than less,” he said. See Bloomberg, July 25, 2011.