Alzheimer’s researcher in trouble charged with fraud

A scientist whose research was at the center of controversy over a candidate drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been charged with fraud.

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted Hoau-Yan Wang, a professor at City College of New York, on charges of falsifying data to obtain grants totaling approximately $16 million from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Wang’s studies supported research into a diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease and simufilam, a drug in advanced clinical trials. Simufilam’s manufacturer, Cassava Sciences, a pharmaceutical company based in Texas, has said the drug improves cognition in Alzheimer’s patients.

Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately six million Americans – a number expected to double by 2050 – and promising treatments are generating enormous excitement. The supply of cassava soared after each round of reported results from his trials.

But some scientists have publicly discredited the drug, claiming that its mechanism of action and the claimed results were implausible. Some have gone further, accusing the company and Dr. Wang, its scientific advisor, of manipulating the results. Several journals have retracted or appended troubling statements to publications by Dr. Wang and a co-author at Cassava.

After the indictment was announced on Friday, Cassava’s stock plummeted to the lowest price since October 2020.

Remi Barbier, the founder and CEO of Cassava, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But at a rack A message on the company’s website states that Dr. Wang “was related to the early stages of development of the company’s drug candidates and diagnostic test.”

“Dr. Wang and his former public university medical school were not involved in the company’s Phase 3 clinical trials of simufilam,” the statement said.

A company publicist pointed to a September 2023 publication that he said provides “independent verification of the science.”

An investigation by the City University of New York, of which the university is a part, struggled for months to gain access to Dr. Wang’s files. Ultimately, members of the investigating committee concluded that Dr. Wang had been “reckless” in his failure to preserve or provide original data, a violation that “amounts to significant scientific misconduct.”

Neither the college nor Dr. Wang immediately responded to requests for comment on the complaint.

Dr. Wang now stands accused of falsifying data in grant applications over nearly eight years, ending in April 2023, the Justice Department said. Some of the grants funded Dr. Wang’s salary and laboratory research at the university.

Federal prosecutors have charged Dr. Wang with multiple counts of fraud and false statements. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington field office is investigating the case. The suit was filed in Maryland, where the NIH is based.

In an emailed statement, Renate Myles, a spokeswoman for the NIH, said the agency “does not discuss grant compliance with respect to specifically funded awards, recipient institutions or supported investigators.”

“NIH does take, however misconduct in research very seriously,” she said. “NIH promptly and carefully reviews all allegations of research misconduct received.”

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