Charles Lieber (Charles Krupa, AP)

Har­vard's Charles Lieber in­dict­ed for ly­ing to the feds, bring­ing US re­searcher­s' Chi­na ties back to the spot­light

Five months af­ter his shock­ing ar­rest, Charles Lieber has been in­dict­ed by a fed­er­al grand ju­ry for ly­ing to au­thor­i­ties about his in­volve­ment in Chi­na’s Thou­sand Tal­ents Pro­gram.

The 61-year-old sci­en­tist — who chaired Har­vard’s chem­istry de­part­ment and led a lab spe­cial­iz­ing in nanoscience be­fore he was ar­rest­ed and placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave in late Jan­u­ary — is fac­ing two counts of mak­ing false state­ments. He will be ar­raigned in fed­er­al court at a lat­er date, and is ex­pect­ed to con­test the charges.

While Lieber was not the first Amer­i­can sci­en­tist not of Chi­nese eth­nic­i­ty to be swept up in the FBI’s probe in­to aca­d­e­m­ic es­pi­onage, his case stood out be­cause of his high pro­file and the sever­i­ty of the po­ten­tial con­se­quences. From a DOJ re­lease:

The charge of mak­ing false state­ments pro­vides for a sen­tence of up to five years in prison, three years of su­per­vised re­lease and a fine of $250,000.

Amid some re­newed ten­sion in US-Chi­na re­la­tions — with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump point­ing fin­gers at Chi­na’s ini­tial han­dling of the coro­n­avirus out­break, and Xi Jin­ping es­sen­tial­ly dar­ing the US by im­pos­ing a na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty law on Hong Kong — Amer­i­can of­fi­cials are said to be con­sid­er­ing fur­ther re­stric­tions on the en­try of Chi­nese stu­dents as re­tal­i­a­tion. The re­ports sparked new de­bates around the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­cu­sa­tions that Chi­na has been steal­ing sci­en­tif­ic se­crets by in­fil­trat­ing top or­ga­ni­za­tions. With­in the bio­med­ical en­ter­prise, aca­d­e­m­ic es­pi­onage is an ac­knowl­edged prob­lem, al­though sci­en­tists are di­vid­ed on what counts as spy­ing, how per­va­sive it is and whether the gov­ern­ment is throw­ing out the ba­by with the bath wa­ter.

As an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Mof­fitt Can­cer Cen­ter high­light­ed, col­lab­o­rat­ing with or even re­ceiv­ing funds from Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties aren’t an of­fense in the gov­ern­ment and re­search in­sti­tu­tions’ eyes. It on­ly be­comes an is­sue when re­searchers hide their af­fil­i­a­tion — time com­mit­ment as well as pay­ments — even when no se­crets are ap­par­ent­ly di­vulged.

At Mof­fitt, the fail­ure to re­port cost six top of­fi­cials their job, in­clud­ing its for­mer CEO and ac­claimed hema­tol­o­gist Alan List.

Lieber’s ties to Chi­na al­leged­ly be­gan in 2011 when he, “un­be­knownst to Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty,” be­came a strate­gic sci­en­tist at Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy. For the next three years, he would sign on­to the Thou­sand Tal­ents Plan, which is de­signed to re­cruit top brains like him­self.

Un­der that con­tract, the DOJ said he was paid a salary of $50,000 per month, liv­ing ex­pens­es of up to ap­prox­i­mate­ly $158,000 USD, and award­ed more than $1.5 mil­lion to es­tab­lish a re­search lab at the uni­ver­si­ty. In re­turn, he al­leged­ly agreed to no less than nine months of work per year.

All of that came in on top of the $15 mil­lion in grants Lieber has re­ceived from the NIH over the years.

But when the feds came knock­ing in April 2018, he told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he was nev­er asked to par­tic­i­pate in Thou­sand Tal­ents, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint. Har­vard, al­leged­ly tak­ing him by his word, al­so told the NIH he had no for­mal as­so­ci­a­tion with WUT af­ter 2012 and that the Wuhan in­sti­tu­tion was false­ly ex­ag­ger­at­ing his role there.

His lawyer, Marc Mukasey, told the Har­vard Crim­son that the gov­ern­ment has it wrong, and that Lieber is the vic­tim, not the per­pe­tra­tor.

“Pro­fes­sor Lieber has ded­i­cat­ed his life to sci­ence and to his stu­dents,” Mukasey wrote. “Not mon­ey, not fame, just his sci­ence and his stu­dents. […] “When jus­tice is done, Char­lie’s good name will be re­stored and the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty again will be able to ben­e­fit from his in­tel­lect and pas­sion.”

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

President Trump walks past HHS secretary Alex Azar (Getty Images)

Azar falls in line un­der Trump again. Ex­perts say he's re­in­forc­ing a dark sig­nal sent to the FDA

In the latest incident where Alex Azar has steadfastly taken the side of President Donald Trump over that of the FDA, the HHS secretary was noncommittal this morning when asked if he supports the attempt by his subordinates at the FDA to strengthen guidelines for a vaccine EUA.

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show, the HHS secretary muddied the waters, stating that the guidance that matters is the one that is “actually already out there.”

CDC’s Robert Redfield, NIAID’s Anthony Fauci, Admiral Brett Giroir at HHS, and FDA’s Stephen Hahn prepare to testify at a House hearing on June 23 (Getty)

'Ex­treme­ly po­lit­i­cal' — Trump neuters FDA's at­tempt to strength­en vac­cine EUA

Stephen Hahn went before a Senate committee Wednesday and declared he’s fighting. “Every one of the decisions we have reached has been made by career FDA scientists based on science and data, not politics,” he exclaimed, adding that “FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that. I will fight for science.”

A few hours later, he was undermined by President Donald Trump when a reporter asked if he was okay with stricter vaccine guidelines that the FDA was said to be cooking up. “That has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move,” he decided.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (AP Images)

An­drew Cuo­mo says New York will un­der­take its own vac­cine re­view process, and wouldn’t rec­om­mend trust­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment

The concerns keep mounting over President Donald Trump’s politicization of the FDA and other federal agencies guiding the development of a safe and effective vaccine. And today, the telegenic New York governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to introduce even more politics into the matter — latest in an ongoing series of incidents that have cast the proudly independent FDA in starkly political terms.

During his daily press conference Cuomo said that the state will review any coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, citing a lack of trust of the Trump administration. The announcement comes one day after Trump accused the FDA of making an “extremely political” move in proposing stricter vaccine guidance.

Covid-19 roundup: Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed's 7th vac­cine is live at­ten­u­at­ed; Small biotech touts big suc­cess where gi­ants have failed

Operation Warp Speed is stacking its vaccine portfolio with a “TBD” new candidate: a live attenuated vaccine that can be administered in a single dose, potentially as an oral formulation rather than an injection.

Sound familiar?

That could be because the unannounced candidate appears to match the profile of an inoculation being developed by Merck, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the development based on a presentation by Moncef Slaoui.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 90,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

On­ly five months af­ter a Se­ries A launch, Taysha goes pub­lic with $157M IPO

As has been the trend in 2020, Taysha Gene Therapies has become the latest biotech to make a quick ascent from a small, privately-funded company to enjoying its very own Nasdaq ticker.

The Dallas-based biotech raised $157 million for its IPO after pricing shares at $20 apiece Thursday, the high-point of its expected range. Initially pegging $100 million in financing, Taysha offered a little less than 8 million shares and will trade under the $TSHA symbol.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 90,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Chair of FDA's vac­cine ad­comm — who's al­so a lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor of Mod­er­na's vac­cine — re­cus­es her­self from Covid-19 talks

When the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meets next month to discuss the development and authorization of Covid-19 vaccines, the chairwoman won’t be there.

Hana El Sahly has recused herself from the expert panel’s review of the topic, citing her role as a lead investigator in Moderna’s Phase III trial, Reuters reported. An associate professor of virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, El Sahly was appointed the chairwoman last year.

David Berry (Flagship)

Flag­ship's next big tech­no­log­i­cal bet? The cloud

Earlier this month, Flagship announced their big bet on the software half the industry is talking about, launching the AI and machine learning startup. Now, they and a couple other investors are gambling $100 million on a software that much of the public generally thinks of as a cool, IT afterthought: cloud computing.

The idea, says founder and Flagship partner David Berry, is one of scale: The sheer magnitude of biological data that you can store on cloud technology is unprecedented. And that size, when leveraged properly, can allow you to ask questions and form insights that are similarly unprecedented.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 90,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

PhII Alzheimer's fail­ure deals new blow to Roche, AC Im­mune — but the tau hy­poth­e­sis is far from dead

The leading anti-tau antibody has failed its first Phase II testing, casting a shadow on a popular target (just trailing amyloid beta) for Alzheimer’s disease.

Roche and AC Immune are quick to acknowledge disappointment in the topline readout, which suggested that semorinemab did not reduce cognitive decline among patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, who are either just starting to have symptoms or have mild manifestations.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 90,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.