As Feud Rages, UCSD Names New Director to Lead Alzheimer’s Study

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UC San Diego had tried to intimidate researchers on Aisen’s team to keep them from leaving for USC and had defamed Aisen.

After a San Diego Superior Court Judge issued a preliminary injunction that required Aisen and USC to return control of all ADCS systems and data, USC removed the litigation to federal court, where it is still pending.

As the rhetoric intensified, Aisen and USC officials have argued that scientists frequently jump from one research university to another, and they typically bring their research grants as part of the move.

But UC San Diego officials contend that the ADCS program is not comparable to the type of research grants a scientist might carry from one university to another. The program represents a broader and more collaborative effort, and— according to David Brenner, vice chancellor of UC San Diego Health Sciences—Aisen and USC have committed serious ethical and legal breaches in their efforts to shift ADCS research to USC.

If the fate of thousands of Alzheimers patients didn’t hang in the balance, the recriminations between UCSD and USC might invite some observers to invoke the centuries-old saying, “The reason academic politics are so vicious is because the stakes are so small.”

But the stakes are not so small. The dispute has drawn widespread attention, largely because of the implications it poses for academic institutions competing to win both elite scientists and federal research funding. For major research universities, locked in what has become a global contest for breakthrough innovation, the outcome could represent hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in licensing revenue.

Meanwhile, turmoil over the management of ADCS clinical trials has continued.

Michael Rafii, who was the medical director overseeing patient safety in at least five ADCS studies, started working last month at USC’s Alzheimer’s research institute under a joint appointment with UC San Diego “to provide continuity of medical oversight,” according to a statement from UC San Diego. UCSD named Rafii and another physician-scientist, William Mobley, as interim co-directors of the ADCS program following Aisen’s departure last summer.

While UC San Diego officials maintain that Rafii continues to serve as a principal investigator at UCSD, Raffi now spends about 80 percent of his time at USC’s research institute, according to an ADCS co-worker who would only speak anonymously.

Feldman is currently a professor of neurology and executive associate dean of research at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine in Vancouver. In its statement today, UC San Diego described him as “a prolific physician-scientist credited with several key contributions in geriatric cognitive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias including frontotemporal dementia,” with more than 150 published papers in epidemiology, genetics, biomarker development and experimental therapeutics.

Feldman has called for “outside the box thinking” in development of new drugs for treating dementia, and in a 2014 article published with several colleagues, he called for “a new research roadmap, one that pulls together government, regulators, industry, academia and the community in an unprecedented collaboration focusing on four key priorities: the fundamental mechanisms of disease; new translational research to speed basic research to clinical testing; innovative partnerships; and preventing AD.”

He is expected to take his new position at UC San Diego on April 1.

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