FBI crack­down on Chi­na’s R&D es­pi­onage in­ten­si­fies with new ar­rests and one fugi­tive in San Fran­cis­co

In­ten­si­fy­ing the crack­down on undis­closed Chi­nese ties with­in US re­search in­sti­tu­tions, the Jus­tice De­part­ment has charged four sci­en­tists — three of them study­ing bi­ol­o­gy or med­i­cine — with visa fraud for al­leged­ly ly­ing about their work for Chi­na’s mil­i­tary.

The FBI has ar­rest­ed three and is point­ing fin­gers at the Chi­nese con­sulate in San Fran­cis­co for har­bor­ing the fourth, putting at­ten­tion and pres­sure on Chi­na’s diplo­mat­ic mis­sions just one day af­ter the US or­dered the clo­sure of its Hous­ton out­post.

In a state­ment, the fugi­tive re­searcher is iden­ti­fied as Juan Tang. She en­tered the US in De­cem­ber 2019 af­ter ap­ply­ing for a visa to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego.

“Juan Tang was a vis­it­ing re­searcher in the De­part­ment of Ra­di­a­tion On­col­o­gy, fund­ed by the Chi­nese Schol­ar­ship Coun­cil, a study-based ex­change pro­gram af­fil­i­at­ed with the Chi­na’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Xi­jing Hos­pi­tal in Chi­na,” the uni­ver­si­ty told lo­cal me­dia. “Her work was sole­ly based in the re­search lab­o­ra­to­ry and she left the Uni­ver­si­ty at the end of June.”

Per court doc­u­ments, Tang claimed on her visa ap­pli­ca­tion that she’s nev­er served in the mil­i­tary. But an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion turned up ev­i­dence of her be­ing a uni­formed of­fi­cer of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing a pho­to of her in the uni­form and ref­er­ences to her em­ploy­ment at the Air Force Mil­i­tary Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty. When con­front­ed by agents, she once again de­nied hav­ing been a mem­ber of the mil­i­tary — and sought refuge at the Chi­nese con­sulate be­fore the feds could ar­rest her on June 26.

While the fo­cus on mil­i­tary as­so­ci­a­tion is un­usu­al, the FBI’s cam­paign to stem for­eign in­flu­ence in US bio­med­ical re­search goes back years. Up­on their warn­ing, the NIH has alert­ed grantee in­sti­tu­tions to pos­si­ble undis­closed fund­ing from and work for for­eign in­sti­tu­tions, — par­tic­u­lar­ly Chi­nese ones. The probes have fo­cused main­ly on the Thou­sand Tal­ents pro­gram, an inia­tive orig­i­nal­ly set up to woo Chi­nese na­tives back to Chi­na but had al­so been ex­tend­ed to Amer­i­can sci­en­tists such as Alan List and Charles Lieber.

As with these new ac­cu­sa­tions, the is­sue of­ten lies with fail­ure to dis­close and vi­o­la­tions of rules rather than ac­tu­al, proven theft of in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty.

The same threads in Tang’s case echoes with those against the three oth­er sci­en­tists, who were al­so named.

Xin Wang, who did re­search at UCSF, wrote about his for­mer em­ploy­ment as a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine in the army but al­leged­ly hid his cur­rent po­si­tion as a tech­ni­cian in a lab. He lat­er re­vealed that his su­per­vi­sor back in Chi­na had asked him for in­for­ma­tion on the lay­out of his UCSF lab and the work he did there, some of which were fund­ed by NIH grants.

Chen Song, 38, was ac­cused of us­ing a Bei­jing hos­pi­tal as a “false front” to cov­er up her re­al em­ploy­er, the PLA. The neu­rol­o­gist con­duct­ed re­search on brain dis­ease at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty.

Kaikai Zhao was a grad­u­ate stu­dent study­ing ma­chine learn­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence at In­di­ana Uni­ver­si­ty who omit­ted his ser­vice and at­ten­dance at a cou­ple of mil­i­tary-af­fil­i­at­ed schools.

“These mem­bers of Chi­na’s Peo­ple Lib­er­a­tion Army ap­plied for re­search visas while hid­ing their true af­fil­i­a­tion with the PLA,” John De­mers, As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­er­al for Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty, said in a state­ment. “This is an­oth­er part of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty’s plan to take ad­van­tage of our open so­ci­ety and ex­ploit aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions.”

John Brown, the ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the FBI’s Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Branch, re­it­er­at­ed the al­most cliché line that the US wel­comes stu­dents, aca­d­e­mics and re­searchers — but they won’t al­low the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to in­fil­trate and ex­ploit this benev­o­lence.

“In in­ter­views with mem­bers of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army in over 25 cities across the U.S., the FBI un­cov­ered a con­cert­ed ef­fort to hide their true af­fil­i­a­tion to take ad­van­tage of the Unit­ed States and the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said.

But amid re­ports that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing can­cel­ing the visas of thou­sands of Chi­nese grad­u­ate stu­dents and re­searchers who have di­rect ties to uni­ver­si­ties af­fil­i­at­ed with the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army — and fol­low­ing a failed at­tempt to kick out stu­dents whose schools are go­ing vir­tu­al — how wel­comed in­di­vid­ual sci­en­tists feel is a whole oth­er ques­tion.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Feng Zhang (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

In search of new way to de­liv­er gene ed­i­tors, CRISPR pi­o­neer turns to mol­e­c­u­lar sy­ringes

Bug bacteria are ruthless.

Some soil bacteria have evolved tiny, but deadly injection systems that attach to insect cells, perforate them and release toxins inside — killing a bug in just a few days’ time. Scientists, on the other hand, want to leverage that system to deliver medicines.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, MIT CRISPR researcher Feng Zhang and his lab describe how they engineered these syringes made by bacteria to deliver potential therapies like toxins that kill cancer cells and gene editors. With the help of an AI program, they developed syringes that can load proteins of their choice and selectively target human cells.

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Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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See­los Ther­a­peu­tics 'tem­porar­i­ly' stops study in rare neu­ro dis­or­der for busi­ness rea­sons

Microcap biotech Seelos Therapeutics is halting enrollment of its study in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (also known as Machado-Joseph disease) because of “financial considerations,” and in order to focus on other studies, the company said today, adding that the pause would be temporary.

The study will continue with the patients who have already enrolled, and the data from them will be used to decide whether to continue enrolling others in the future.

Alec­tor cuts 11% of work­force as it dou­bles down on late-stage neu­ro pro­grams part­nered with GSK, Ab­b­Vie

A month after revealing plans to concentrate on its late-stage immuno-neurology pipeline, Alector is trimming its headcount by 11%.

The layoffs will impact around 30 employees across the organization, the company disclosed in an SEC filing, adding that the plan will “better align the company’s resources” with the new strategy. With $712.9 million in cash, cash equivalents and investments as of the end of 2022, Alector believes the reserves will now get it through 2025.

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Hugo Peris, Spiral Therapeutics CEO

Hear­ing-fo­cused biotech grabs trio of pro­grams from Oton­o­my's fire sale

Otonomy may be shutting down, but the lessons learned there will live on at another biotech working on new treatments for hearing loss.

San Francisco-based Spiral Therapeutics has bought certain assets related to three of Otonomy’s programs, ranging from data, patent rights, and know-how to inventory. That includes data around Otonomy’s twice-failed lead program, OTO-104 (Otividex), a sustained-exposure formulation of dexamethasone.

CSL CEO Paul McKenzie (L) and CMO Bill Mezzanotte

Q&A: New­ly-mint­ed CSL chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul McKen­zie and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Bill Mez­zan­otte

Paul McKenzie took over as CEO of Australian pharma giant CSL this month, following in the footsteps of long-time CSL vet Paul Perreault.

With an eye on mRNA, and quickly commercializing its new, $3.5 million-per-shot gene therapy for hemophilia B, McKenzie and chief medical officer Bill Mezzanotte answered some questions from Endpoints News this afternoon about where McKenzie is going to take the company and what advances may be coming to market from CSL’s pipeline. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Phar­maron ex­pand­ing Liv­er­pool man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty with a $186M+ price tag

Liverpool may be known for rock and roll and premier league football, but the China-based contract manufacturer Pharmaron is looking to make it a bigger hub for cell and gene therapy manufacturing.

As part of Pharmaron’s further commitment to Merseyside county, it plans to build an 8,000-square-meter facility, or around 86,000 square feet, which includes a boost to the manufacturing capacity of 3,500 square meters, or 37,600 square feet. The price tag for the expansion will be £151 million ($186 million), with Pharmaron receiving a grant from the UK Government’s Life Sciences Innovation Manufacturing Fund (LSIMF).