Top exec, researchers resign from Moffitt Cancer Center over concern of IP theft by China

Moffitt Cancer Center
The president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center and several others resigned recently "for violations of conflict of interest rules through their work in China," officials said in a statement. (Moffitt Cancer Center)

Several top executives stepped down from Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida—including President and CEO Alan List—following concerns about Chinese interference in research there. 

List, M.D., as well as center director Thomas Sellers stepped down from the Tampa-based facility, which is one of 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, "for violations of conflict of interest rules through their work in China," officials said in a statement.

Center officials said the resignations came after Moffitt "initiated an internal review of team members’ collaborations with research institutions in China after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) warned all its grant recipients of foreign efforts to influence or compromise U.S. researchers."  

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Timothy Adams, who is institute board chairman, will assume overall operational responsibilities while the center undertakes a national CEO search, officials said. 

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The departures come amid mounting national concerns that China is recruiting researchers to share U.S. biomedical research secrets. There are 180 investigations underway at academic institutions across the U.S. by the NIH and the FBI to search for instances of intellectual property theft, The New York Times reported in November.

In the statement, cancer center officials said "the open exchange of ideas and Moffitt’s culture of innovative collaboration have made it a global leader in developing breakthrough research" and led it to seize "the opportunity to pair with foreign academics and researchers, a practice encouraged by the U.S. government."

They also heeded growing concern over theft of its research, officials said in a statement.

“This great institution did its job: We listened to the warnings from NIH, conducted a proactive review, and took strong action when it was needed,” said founder and former House Speaker H. Lee Moffitt.

However, Florida state Rep. Chris Sprowls announced he will lead an investigation into Moffitt and other federally and state-funded academic institutions related to this issue, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In the statement, Moffitt officials said their review board focused on team members' participation in China’s “Thousand Talents” Program, which recruits global researchers and academics. Moffitt has shared the preliminary findings of its ongoing review with the federal government.

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They said there was no indication Moffitt research was compromised or patient care affected and said the departures will not disrupt treatment to patients.

“At Moffitt, we pride ourselves not only on our life-saving research and world-class patient care, but also on transparency and integrity among all our employees. This was an unfortunate but necessary decision,” Adams said in the statement. "We will continue to be careful stewards of the public money entrusted to us for cancer research. Moffitt is proud to have 7,000 of the finest medical professionals in the world fighting every day to treat and cure cancer. That is what mattered yesterday, and that is what will matter tomorrow.”

The cancer center is "thoroughly reviewing" its 12-year partnership with China’s Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital for the training of oncology practitioners, including through international exchanges, officials said.

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