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.”

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Lisa Deschamps, AviadoBio CEO

Ex-No­var­tis busi­ness head hops over to a gene ther­a­py start­up — and she's reeled in $80M for a dash to the clin­ic

Neurologist and King’s College London professor Christopher Shaw has been researching neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and collaborating with drugmakers for the last 25 years in the hopes of pushing new therapies forward. But unfortunately, none of those efforts have come anywhere close to fruition.

“So, you know, after 20 years in the game, I said, ‘Let’s try and do it ourselves,’” he told Endpoints News. 

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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Drug­mak­ers cut prices on av­er­age by more than 60% to get on Chi­na's 2022 NDRL list — re­port

China’s National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) is a crystal clear example of the country’s bargaining power in the biotech and pharma market, as more firms have reportedly agreed to cut their prices for 67 new medicines to be included in its national medical insurance coverage starting in January.

Being on the list is lucrative. Essentially, if a biotech or pharma company gets on this list, they’re covered by the biggest insurance network in the country. Given China’s vast population, the Chinese government has significant leverage to decide which medicines can make a profit. While domestic drugmakers are quite willing to play that game, cutting prices significantly in exchange for getting on the list, international companies don’t do it as often.