Three scientists of MD Anderson Cancer Center, the top cancer research center in the world, were recently fired because of espionage fears after the National Institutes of Health (NiH) alerted the center of irregularities relating to grant recipients.
Federal officials had instructed NiH, the biggest public funder of biomedical research in the U.S., to investigate a number of professors who were alleged to have violated granting agency policies.
With the help of FBI, NiH discovered that five MD Anderson staff had potential conflicts of interest and foreign income that was not reported. NiH informed MD Anderson through email in 2018 and required a reply within 30 days.
Not taking any action could possibly result to the withholding essential funding by NiH. MD Anderson got NiH grants worth $148 million in 2018.
Responding to the accusations, MD Anderson carried out an investigation and started termination processes for three professors. Two of the professors actually resigned from their positions even prior to the start of proceedings. A fourth professor was investigated but there is no termination called for. A fifth professor is still being investigated. Three of the professors involved are Chinese and all the professors are from Asia.
The terminations were about possible intellectual property diversion, inability to disclose sizeable resources coming from other institutions, and the disclosure of confidential details on grant applications.
It is MD Anderson’s obligation to protect intellectual property and all federal and state resources given to them. Vigilance must be exercised in securing the exceptional work of their faculty and making sure to do world-class research in the pursuit to stop cancer.
As per Houston Chronicle’s report on terminations, NiH sent similar email messages to many other organizations telling their concerns regarding some people who may be recruits of foreign governments to steal exclusive research data. It is probable that the three actions will be followed by many others in the coming weeks.
There is growing concern about the possibility that China or other foreign governments are stealing scientific research carried out in the United States. The information is employed to run ‘shadow laboratories’ abroad to the advantage of those countries.
An FBI report stated that up to $600 billion is lost every year to theft of intellectual property. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, China is the leading threat and is doing espionage in different industries in 50 U.S. states.