Funding and Data Lawsuit Could Threaten Alzheimer’s Research Trial

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Funding and Data LawsuitThe clinical trial of a drug to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s is being threatened by an unusual lawsuit filed by the public University of California, San Diego (UCSD) against the private University of Southern California (USC). At the center of the matter is Alzheimer’s expert Paul Aisen, $100 million in grant money, and core clinical data.

Until recently, Aisen was working for UCSD as the head of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, a position he’s held since 2007. The study is currently running a clinical trial for a drug developed by Eli Lilly and is testing whether it can delay or prevent Alzheimer’s before memory loss sets in. In addition to the research data from the trial, Aisen also has $100 million in both federal and private funding and grants.

When Aisen and eight other colleagues were hired away by USC, they attempted to take this money and data with them. Such a move is not unusual among universities. Normally, what happens in these situations is that the researchers get permission to take their grants with them. The universities don’t necessarily like giving up the funding, but they are typically inclined to be cooperative. In this case—UCSD has filed a lawsuit seeking to block USC from claiming the research data and they are claiming unspecified financial damages.

The lawsuit asserts that Aisen, his eight colleagues, and USC conspired together to take the funding and research data. This move, UCSD claims, is a breach of academic and medical standards of conduct. How this constitutes a breach, as opposed to another instance of researchers jumping from one institute to another, is unclear.

It’s also unclear what this lawsuit means for the future of the clinical trial. Last week a judge denied USC’s request to block UCSD from the research data, so for the time being, it appears as if the trial can continue. The uncertainty of how events will progress has made the National Institute on Ageing—the body that provided the grant—nervous.

The agency has released a statement saying that they are monitoring the situation “with a focus on the safety of the study participants and the integrity and utility of the data.”

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Battle Erupts over Poached Researcher,” The Australian web site, July 20, 2015;
Gordon, L., et al., “Legal Fight between USC, UCSD Could Have Implications for Alzheimer’s Research,” Los Angeles Times web site, July 19, 2015;
“What’s behind UCSD, USC Court Battle?” The San Diego Union-Tribune web site, July 19, 2015;