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Moffitt resignations spark state probe

Margie Manning

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Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor

NOTE: This story has been updated with a statement from the National Institutes of Health.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, has been tapped to lead an investigation following the resignation of the president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center.

Dr. Alan List stepped down Wednesday, after an internal review found violations of conflict of interest rules for his work in China. Timothy Seller, center director, and four other researchers also resigned.

Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva said the news was of “great concern” and compelled further investigation.

“The actions of Moffitt’s CEO and implicated researchers are indefensible,” said Sprowls, who is slated to succeed Oliva as House Speaker in 2021.
“To accept vast sums of money — state and federal — and then have the CEO and other employees accepting money from China violates the public trust,” Sprowls tweeted.

Moffitt has said there’s no indication that the violations affected patient care or compromised Moffitt research.

The incidents uncovered at Moffitt are not unique to the institution, according to a statement the National Institutes of Health sent to the St. Pete Catalyst late Thursday. Here’s the full statement:

“Over the past two years, the National Institutes of Health has taken extensive actions to identify and mitigate subversive efforts by individuals to capitalize on NIH-supported research for personal gain in violation of the terms and conditions of NIH grant awards. Based on NIH’s general outreach efforts to the NIH-funded and -applicant community on this issue, the compliance office at the Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, initiated a review of the Center’s activities. The review uncovered evidence that several individuals involved in NIH grants, some of whom are members of the Moffitt Cancer Center leadership team, failed to disclose substantial contributions of resources from other organizations, foreign affiliations, and financial conflicts of interest.

“NIH continues to work with the Moffitt Cancer Center compliance office to determine the extent of the violations and remediation actions, which may include replacement of principal investigators on affected NIH grants and recovery of NIH funding, among other actions. NIH commends the Moffitt Cancer Center compliance office for identifying and disclosing these violations to NIH.

“NIH has been very transparent with the community about these threats to the integrity of biomedical research through public statements, Congressional hearings, extensive education with NIH grantee institutions, and collaboration and coordination with federal agencies and scientific professional societies. Currently, NIH is reviewing approximately 180 individual cases within ~70 institutions. Many violations identified by NIH have been egregious in nature with clear evidence of intent to deceive. These violations include 1) failure to disclose substantial contributions of resources from other organizations, including foreign governments, which distorts decisions about the appropriate use of NIH funds; 2) diversion of intellectual property in grant applications or produced by NIH-supported biomedical research to other entities, including other countries; and 3) sharing of confidential information by peer reviewers with others, including in some instances with foreign entities, or otherwise attempting to influence funding decisions.

“When NIH identifies potential threats, we notify our grantee institutions and ask them to investigate to ensure they are complying with the terms and conditions of NIH grant award. These incidents uncovered by the Moffitt Cancer Center are not unique to their institution and we remind NIH-funded institutions to look closely at their organizations to mitigate unscrupulous practices by foreign entities that aim to capitalize on the collaborative nature of the U.S. biomedical enterprise. We encourage all NIH grantee institutions to learn from this experience.”

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