Harvard University professor Charles Lieber leaves federal court, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Boston (Michael Dwyer/AP Images)

'He re­peat­ed­ly lied': Feds pile on as Har­vard chemist Charles Lieber con­vict­ed of ly­ing about Chi­nese ties

In a stun­ning cli­max to an eye-catch­ing saga, Har­vard sci­en­tist Charles Lieber has been con­vict­ed of ly­ing to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment about his ties to Chi­na’s Thou­sand Tal­ents Pro­gram.

Fol­low­ing close to three hours of de­lib­er­a­tion, a fed­er­al ju­ry in Boston found 62-year-old Lieber — a pi­o­neer in med­ical nan­otech­nol­o­gy and the for­mer chair of Har­vard’s chem­istry de­part­ment — guilty of all six felony charges, in­clud­ing two counts of mak­ing false state­ments, two counts of fil­ing false tax re­turns and two counts of fail­ing to dis­close a for­eign (in this case Chi­nese) bank ac­count.

The three types of charges car­ry max­i­mum sen­tences of five years, three years and five years, re­spec­tive­ly, adding up to a 26-year stretch plus hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in fines.

In an email to the Boston Globe, Lieber’s at­tor­ney, Marc Mukasey wrote, “We re­spect the ver­dict and will keep up the fight.”

Lieber’s ar­rest back in ear­ly 2020 sent shock­waves across the bio­med­ical sphere as it rep­re­sent­ed the most high-pro­file case to emerge in the US De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s “Chi­na Ini­tia­tive.” Amid es­ca­lat­ing US-Chi­na ten­sion, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan a con­tro­ver­sial crack­down on sus­pect­ed aca­d­e­m­ic es­pi­onage and fail­ures to dis­close ties with Chi­nese in­sti­tu­tions.

In par­tic­u­lar, the fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tions shed a harsh spot­light on the Thou­sand Tal­ents Pro­gram, a cam­paign launched by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to at­tract sci­en­tists from over­seas through fund­ing and oth­er re­sources. Where­as the pro­gram most­ly re­cruit­ed aca­d­e­mics of Chi­nese her­itage, some high-pro­file West­ern re­searchers would al­so be ap­proached with of­fers, as de­tailed in the re­ports about Lieber and for­mer Mof­fitt Can­cer Cen­ter CEO Alan List.

For Lieber, his cen­tral of­fens­es were con­ceal­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the Wuhan Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy, where he agreed to be a “strate­gic sci­en­tist” and open up a lab in ex­change for fund­ing, and par­tic­i­pa­tion in Thou­sand Tal­ents.

“By Charles Lieber’s own ad­mis­sion – af­ter we ar­rest­ed him – the ev­i­dence against him was for­mi­da­ble,” Joseph Bonavolon­ta, FBI spe­cial agent in charge of the Boston di­vi­sion, said in a state­ment. “He re­peat­ed­ly lied to his em­ploy­er, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, and tax­pay­ers to fraud­u­lent­ly main­tain ac­cess to fed­er­al re­search funds.”

But crit­ics slammed what they see as a witch hunt that puts a neg­a­tive spin on rou­tine — even pre­vi­ous­ly en­cour­aged — in­ter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic col­lab­o­ra­tions and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly pun­ish­es sci­en­tists for what could sim­ply be hon­est mis­takes or an over­sight. In the wake of his pros­e­cu­tion, Lieber was quick­ly placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave. He lat­er sued Har­vard for aban­don­ing him.

“Isn’t it trou­bling that Dr. Lieber’s work was all pub­lic and for the ben­e­fit of the world, but he’s fac­ing crim­i­nal charges for it?” Mukasey ar­gued in court, per the Globe. “Al­most every­one got what they want­ed. The Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health and the De­part­ment of De­fense got to keep Dr. Lieber’s grant re­search; Har­vard got to keep their mil­lions of dol­lars in grant mon­ey. The FBI got its big case af­ter work­ing hard one day, but Char­lie Lieber got left hold­ing the bag.”

Lieber, who is cur­rent­ly bat­tling lym­phoma, told spe­cial agents in in­ter­ro­ga­tions that he was al­so mo­ti­vat­ed by his de­sire to win a No­bel Prize.

“I was younger and stu­pid,” he said in video clips played in court, as re­port­ed by the New York Times. “I want to be rec­og­nized for what I’ve done. Every­one wants to be rec­og­nized.”

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In­no­v­a­tive MedTech De­mands Spe­cial­ist Clin­i­cal Tri­al Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs and De­sign

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Cit­ing 'chal­leng­ing eco­nom­ic en­vi­ron­ment,' PhI­II-ready mi­cro­bio­me biotech lays off 20% of staffers

The market downturn isn’t just sweeping up public biotechs.

Vedanta Biosciences, a developer of oral drugs derived from the human microbiome, is laying off about 20% of its staff — an unfortunately common occurrence these days. But CEO Bernat Olle took the unusual step of sharing the decision on LinkedIn and offering to connect the employees being let go with any company that’s hiring in their areas.

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Tony Coles, Cerevel CEO

Cerev­el takes the pub­lic of­fer­ing route, with a twist — rais­ing big mon­ey thanks to ri­val da­ta

As public biotechs seek to climb out of the bear market, a popular strategy to raise cash has been through public offerings on the heels of positive data. But one proposed raise Wednesday appeared to take advantage not of a company’s own data, but those from a competitor.

Cerevel Therapeutics plans to raise $250 million in a public offering and another $250 million in debt, the biotech announced Wednesday afternoon, even though it did not report any news on its pipeline. However, the move comes days after rival Karuna Therapeutics touted positive Phase III data in schizophrenia, a field where Cerevel is pursuing a similar program.

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Who are the women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' 2022 spe­cial re­port

Over the past three years, Endpoints News has spotlighted 60 women who have blazed trails and supercharged R&D across the biopharma world. And judging from the response we’ve received, to both our special reports and live events, telling their stories — including any obstacles they may have had to overcome — has inspired our readers in many different ways.

But change takes time, and the fact remains that women are still underrepresented at the upper ranks of the drug-making world.

Up­dat­ed: Amid mas­sive re­struc­tur­ing, Bio­gen looks to re­duce phys­i­cal pres­ence in Boston

Biogen is putting a sizable chunk of office and research space in Kendall Square and Weston, MA up for sublease, marking another big change as the biotech grapples with the aftershock of a disastrous and controversial rollout for its Alzheimer’s drug.

The subbleases are “part of Biogen’s overall implementation of the ‘Future of Work,’ which is allowing us to optimize our footprint and reduce the amount of space we occupy, taking into consideration new elements such as the hybrid work model,” Biogen spokesperson Ashleigh Koss wrote in a statement to Endpoints News, adding that the company has had subleases across several buildings for years.

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Mathai Mammen (Rob Tannenbaum, Endpoints News at BIO 2018)

Math­ai Mam­men makes an abrupt ex­it as head of the big R&D group at J&J

In an after-the-bell shocker, J&J announced Monday evening that Mathai Mammen has abruptly exited J&J as head of its top-10 R&D group.

Recruited from Merck five years ago, where the soft-spoken Mammen was being groomed as the successor to Roger Perlmutter, he had been one of the top-paid R&D chiefs in biopharma. His group spent $12 billion last year on drug development, putting it in the top 5 in the industry.

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One year in­to clin­i­cal hold, FDA has more ques­tions about 'pooled' mi­cro­bio­me ther­a­py

The FDA is still wary about a trial testing a microbiome therapy in patients with steroid-resistant acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD).

A year after MaaT Pharma’s IND application in the US was first met with a clinical hold, the French biotech said the agency is maintaining the hold. The crux of the matter, MaaT suggested, has to do with the way it puts together its drug candidate, which is administered as an enema (i.e. an injection of fluid into the bowel).

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Pfizer is launching its second-ever rebate program, this time for Panzyga, its treatment for a rare neurological disease of the peripheral nerves.

The program began last month, according to STAT which first reported the news, and offers a refund of out-of-pocket costs for patients who must discontinue their course before the fifth treatment for “clinical reasons.”

Panzyga was approved back in 2018 to treat primary immunodeficiency (PI) in patients two years and older and chronic immune thrombocytopenia (cITP) in adults. It has since picked up an indication in chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a condition that’s characterized by weakness of the arms or legs, tingling or numbness, and a loss of deep tendon reflexes, according to the NIH.

Horizon's back-to-school campaign for children with cystinosis includes an all about me poster as part of a care package box.

Hori­zon read­ies kids and fam­i­lies for back to school with week­long ac­tiv­i­ties around rare dis­ease cysti­nosis

Going back to school is usually a bumpy readjustment from summer freedom for all kids, but especially for kids with chronic health conditions. Horizon Therapeutics is hoping to help smooth the way for some who have the rare disease cystinosis. Cystinosis is a genetic disease that causes the amino acid cystine to build up in different tissues and organs.

The “Gear Up” for school campaign is running all week with different online and at-home events and activities for families and children with cystinosis. Each family who signed up receives a care package mailed to their home including an activity coloring book “Michael’s Show-and-Tell.” The book tells Michael’s story about living with cystinosis while offering kids matching, coloring and finding object games along with information.

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