The University of California, San Diego sued USC over research data and grants after former UCSD professor and researcher Paul Aisen left San Diego to work at Southern California. On July 24, San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes ruled in favor of UCSD, giving the school control over a project on Alzheimer’s disease.
At UCSD, Aisen led the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, funded by the National Institute on Aging. The research centered around a clinical trial that determines whether a drug developed by the pharmaceutical corporation, Eli Lilly and Company, can prevent or slow Alzheimer’s by blocking a protein buildup in the brain.
UCSD claims that USC, Aisen and eight colleagues worked together to take data gathered on more than 1,000 patients, as well as an estimated $100 million in funding, to a new USC Alzheimer’s study center.
In speaking of his decision to move, Aisen told the Los Angeles Times that financial problems at UCSD impeded the expansion of his research. He said USC is more flexible and allows him to “optimize” his work.
Research universities commonly recruit faculty from other schools. Consequently, the losing school also has to forfeit the overhead funding that the researcher’s grant was paying his or her institution. When investigative teams leave for new universities, if they take their grants with them, the new university typically receives those funds that cover research facilities and administrative support.
In early August after the court ruling, Eli Lilly and Company decided to shift their funding from UCSD to USC.
According to Provost Michael Quick, the research, not research grant politics, must come first.
“Dr. Aisen is very concerned that if UCSD has sole control over [the data], there might be patient safety and data safety issues,” Quick said.
Aisen and his team want to be in charge of managing the data, regardless of which university’s patronage they work under.
In early July, USC requested in a Superior Court in San Diego that UCSD be blocked from access to the study’s data. The judge denied the request.
USC maintains that collaborative research is the ultimate goal. Therefore, President C. L. Max Nikias is still continuing to try and better the school’s reputation in biomedical sciences, from upgrading infrastructure to recruiting top-notch faculty.
According to Quick, the highest priority should be preserving Alzheimer’s patients’ hope for the research going forward. For this reason, Quick is concerned about research getting sidetracked by the trial.
“[The lawsuit] has the potential of causing distress for all the patients on these clinical trials,” Quick said.
NIH officials would not comment on the litigation, but NIA spokesperson Barbara Cire said, “We do want to assure participants, the ADC’s network of sites and the research community that we are aware of the situation and are working to ensure that operations continue, with a focus on participant safety and data integrity and utility,” Cire said.
Researchers switching schools — and taking grants with them — is common. Quick said UCSD’s reaction, therefore, came as a surprise.
“The lawsuit is a really blunt instrument for dealing with this,” Quick said. “In academia, we tend to want to solve things without having to go that route, and I’m still hopeful we can work this out.”