NIH halts $100 million drinking study

The National Institutes of Health has ordered a halt to a $100 million, 10-year study of moderate drinking that’s being funded in large part by the alcoholic-beverage industry.

Thursday morning’s announcement by NIH Director Francis Collins reflects the seriousness of allegations that surfaced in news reports in recent months, including a story in March in the New York Times that described two scientists and a federal health official pitching the idea for the study to liquor company executives at a 2014 gathering in Palm Beach, Fla.

The alcohol industry agreed to fund the research via a private foundation that supports NIH. The goal of the study, which involves 7,000 individuals, is to assess whether moderate drinking — a single drink a day — has a health benefit. Some research has suggested such a benefit, but the conclusion remains controversial, and the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that people who do not drink alcohol should not start.

The Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular (MACH) trial is based at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a grantee of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Collins has ordered two reviews of the study. The first, by the Office of Management Assessment, will “determine if any process or conduct irregularities occurred with grants associated with the MACH Trial,” according to NIH. The second review, by an advisory committee to Collins, will examine the scientific merit of the study.

NIH said Thursday that the reviews are expected to be concluded in June.

Beth Israel has policies to ensure the scientific and ethical integrity of research, medical center spokeswoman Jennifer Kritz said in a statement soon after NIH revealed its decision. Kritz added that Beth Israel has conducted its own review of the MACH trial “and we have not found any reason to believe that it does not adhere to our institutional requirements.”

— Joel Achenbach


School reaches settlement in equal-pay suit

Seven female law professors at a Colorado university will receive a $2.6 million settlement and pay increases after federal officials filed a lawsuit against the women’s employer for routinely paying higher salaries to their male colleagues.

A federal judge signed off on the settlement agreement Thursday between the University of Denver, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the professors.

The university said it was confident in its legal position but settled the case to “heal our community.”

According to the terms, the school must create a password-protected site listing Sturm College of Law faculty salaries, position, date of hire and demographic information. Names will not be included.

The school also must require employee training on discrimination and hire an outside consultant to study faculty pay each year.

The $2.6 million award includes back pay for the professors and attorneys’ fees.

According to the original complaint, the law school’s dean, Martin Katz, wrote a memo in December 2012 on faculty raises. Katz included information showing female full professors’ median salary was about $11,000 less than male counterparts while the average female professor made nearly $16,000 less than male full professors.

Professor Lucy Marsh, who began working at the law school in 1976, filed a complaint with the EEOC, prompting the federal agency to review the dispute and file the lawsuit. Marsh and six other female professors then signed on as plaintiffs.

— Associated Press


Innocent man gets $2 million in lawsuit

California has awarded nearly $2 million in compensation to a former inmate wrongly imprisoned for almost 40 years.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Thursday signed a law giving 70-year-old Craig Richard Coley $140 for each day he was in prison.

Coley spent 39 years behind bars after he was wrongly convicted of killing his girlfriend, Rhonda Wicht, 24, of Simi Valley, and her 4-year-old son in 1978.

Brown pardoned him before Thanksgiving at the urging of Simi Valley’s police chief and Ventura County’s district attorney, who cited faulty evidence.

Coley previously said the money can’t make up for what he called the “worst nightmare” of spending 13,991 days in prison.

It’s the largest payment under California’s Erroneous Conviction Program, although there have been larger awards to crime victims through other programs.

— Associated Press