Moffit Cancer Center CEO Dr. Alan List is purportedly leaving the institution due a violation of the cancer center’s rules for conflict of interest due to some sort of research work with China. Recently, local media 8 On Your Side reported that an internal investigation into hospital dealings found that a number of members in the leadership “failed to disclose substantial contributions of resources from other organizations, foreign affiliations and financial conflicts of interest.” Apparently, if reports are true, China’s “Thousand Talents Program” penetrated the Moffitt Cancer Center—leaving a trail of conflict of interest in its path.
Internal Compliance Audit
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the compliance office launched an internal investigation into the hospital’s partnership with any China research arms and uncovered a number of “compliance violations.” Apparently, most of these were linked to Moffitt employees’ involvement with China’s “Thousand Talents” program —an initiative to recruit researchers and other experts from American and European companies.
What is the Thousand Talents Program?
Established in 2008 by the central Chinese government to recognize and recruit leading international experts in scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship. The U.S. political establishment has labeled the program a threat to national security and security experts believe some elements associated with the program cross ethical and legal boundaries. For example, the program supposedly required its participants to execute legally binding contracts with Chinese institutions, which incentivized the participants to lie on grant applications and actually steal intellectual property. For more overview of the program see the link.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a statement to News Channel 8:
NIH continues to work with the Moffitt Cancer Center compliance office to determine the extent of the violations and remediation actions, which may include replacement of principal investigators on affected NIH grants and recovery of NIH funding, among other actions. NIH commends the Moffitt Cancer Center compliance office and Board of Directors for taking swift action upon learning of these violations and working with NIH to remediate the problems.
When NIH identifies potential threats, we notify our grantee institutions and ask them to investigate to ensure they are complying with the terms and conditions of NIH grant award. These incidents uncovered by the Moffitt Cancer Center are not unique to their institution and we remind NIH-funded institutions to look closely at their organizations to mitigate unscrupulous practices by foreign entities that aim to capitalize on the collaborative nature of the U.S. biomedical enterprise.
Thus far, what has been disclosed precludes any adverse impacts on Moffitt research or patient care. Moffitt provided this statement to News Channel 8 following List’s and Sellers resignations:
“At Moffitt, we pride ourselves not only on our life-saving research and world-class patient care, but also on transparency and integrity among all our employees. This was an unfortunate but necessary decision,” said Adams. Going forward, this will not damage the future of our research or the care of our patients. We will continue to be careful stewards of the public money entrusted to us for cancer research. Moffitt is proud to have 7,000 of the finest medical professionals in the world fighting every day to treat and cure cancer. That is what mattered yesterday, and that is what will matter tomorrow.”
Timothy J. Adams, institute board chairman, will assume overall operational responsibilities while a national CEO search is underway.
About Moffitt Cancer Center
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is a nonprofit cancer treatment and research center located in Tampa, Florida. Established in 1981 by the Florida Legislature, the hospital opened in October 1986 on the University of South Florida campus. Moffitt is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida. In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked Moffitt Cancer Center as the No. 8 cancer hospital in the nation.
Call to Action: If you believe that the Thousand Talents” program has penetrated your university, you should speak with university leadership.