MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas has forced out three senior researchers with ties to China. The move comes amid nationwide investigations by federal officials into whether researchers are pilfering intellectual property from US research institutions and running “shadow laboratories” abroad, according to a joint report by Science magazine and the Houston Chronicle.
The National Institutes of Health began sending letters to the elite cancer center last August regarding the conduct of five researchers there. The letters discussed “serious violations” of NIH policies, including leaking confidential NIH grant proposals under peer review to individuals in China, failing to disclose financial ties in China, and other conflicts of interest. MD Anderson moved to terminate three of those researchers, two of whom resigned during the termination process. The center cleared the fourth and is still investigation the fifth.
The move follows years of probing from the FBI, which first contacted MD Anderson back in 2015 with such concerns, according to MD Anderson President Dr. Peter Pisters. In December 2017, MD Anderson handed over hard drives containing employee emails to FBI investigators. That same year, a report by the US Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property used some rough calculations to estimate that IP theft by all parties cost the country upward of $225 billion, potentially as high as $600 billion, each year. The report called China the “world’s principal IP infringer.”