Researcher suffering from Alzheimer's disease accused of fraud

A scientist whose research has been at the centre of a controversy over an Alzheimer's drug candidate has been accused of fraud.

A federal grand jury on Thursday charged City College of New York professor Hou-Yan Wang with falsifying data to obtain a nearly $16 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Wang's studies provided the basis for a diagnostic test for Alzheimer's disease and research on simufilam, a drug that is in advanced clinical trials. Simufilam's manufacturer, Texas-based pharmaceutical company Cassava Sciences, has said the drug improves cognition in Alzheimer's patients.

Alzheimer's disease affects nearly six million Americans—a number expected to double by 2050—and promising treatments generate tremendous excitement. Cassava's stock rose after each round of reported results from its trials.

But some scientists publicly denounced the drug, saying its mechanism of action and alleged results were unreliable. Some went so far as to accuse the company and its scientific adviser, Dr. Wang, of manipulating the results. Several journals retracted or attached statements expressing concern about publications by Dr. Wang and a co-author of Cassava's.

Following the indictment announcement on Friday, Cassava's stock fell to its lowest level since October 2020.

Remi Barbier, Cassava's founder and chief executive, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement posted on its website, the company said Dr. Wang's work was “related to the early development stages of the company's drug candidates and diagnostic tests.”

“Dr. Wang and his former public university medical school had no involvement in the company's Phase 3 clinical trials of simufilam,” the statement said.

A company publicist pointed to a September 2023 publication that it said provided “independent verification of the science.”

The investigation conducted by the City University of New York, of which the college is a part, struggled for months to gain access to Dr. Wang's files. Eventually, members of the investigative committee concluded that Dr. Wang was “negligent” in failing to retain or provide the original data, an offense that “amounts to significant research misconduct.”

“The university will continue to cooperate fully with the federal government's investigation until the matter is resolved,” a university spokesperson said in a statement.

Dr. Wang did not respond to requests for comment on the indictment.

According to the Justice Department, Dr. Wang is now accused of misrepresenting data in grant applications spanning nearly eight years, ending in April 2023. Some of the grants funded Dr. Wang’s salary and laboratory research at the university.

Federal prosecutors have charged Dr. Wang with multiple counts of fraud and making false statements. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington Field Office is investigating the case. The indictment was filed in Maryland, where the NIH is headquartered.

In an emailed statement, NIH spokeswoman Renate Miles said the agency “does not discuss grant compliance reviews on specific funded awards, recipient institutions, or supported investigators.”

“However, the NIH takes research misconduct very seriously,” he added. “The NIH promptly and carefully reviews all allegations of research misconduct.”

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