Moffitt Investigation Faults Doctors For Not Disclosing China Relationships

Feb 6, 2020
Originally published on February 6, 2020 7:58 am

An investigation by Moffitt Cancer Center found that its CEO, director and four researchers did not report their participation in a Chinese program that was paying them tens of thousands of dollars.

All six had been participating in a program called 1,000 Talents, used by China for more than a decade to recruit global researchers and academics.

The failure to disclose the information was a violation of Moffitt policy and led to the December resignations of CEO Alan List, the center’s director Tom Sellers and four researchers: Dr. Sheng Wei, Dr. Howard McLeod, Dr. Dan Sullivan and Dr. Pearlie K. Epling-Burnette.

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The investigation, conducted in 2019 and released last month, found each doctor set up a Chinese bank account where their personal compensation payments would be deposited. Some of those payments of up to $80,000, are documented in the investigation, but there could be others, the report said.

“It is not clear how much personal income or research support each involved individual at Moffitt received for his or her participation in the Talents program,” the report said.

Some participants received additional money for research subsidies and travel.

For example, List’s 2015 application referenced his compensation as $71,000 a year for three years. The report said in 2016, List directed $85,300 from his 1,000 Talents research funds to a Chinese hospital. List also received an award that included a payment of $7,100 and was paid $15,000 for serving on a hospital advisory committee, according to the investigation. In June 2018 List opened a personal bank account in China and told investigators that $70,000 was deposited into it. But he said he never withdrew any funds from it, according to the report.

Four of the six doctors submitted videos with their applications, some committing on camera to work at least two months a year on the 1,000 Talents program activities, according to the report.

The doctors did not fully disclosed their participation in the program until Moffitt investigators confronted them, the report said.  

“All Moffitt faculty participants in the Talents programs acknowledged receiving personal payments that they did not promptly disclose to Moffitt,” the report stated. “They also acknowledged having opened or maintained personal bank accounts in China to receive talents program compensation.”

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The report says Wei was the first to participate in the 1,000 Talents Program. He was List’s primary scientific collaborator at Moffitt and recruited the CEO along with all the others into the program.

Wei graduated from Tianjin Medical University in China and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He joined Moffitt in 2008, the same year the cancer center started a relationship with the Chinese university to provide training and consultation.

In recent years, the United States government, including the National Institutes of Health, have become increasingly concerned that China is developing academic and research collaborations to steal technology and intellectual property, according to the investigation.

According to Moffitt, there is no evidence that intellectual property was stolen or that research or patient care was compromised.