Is the ceo and president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which is one of the most prominent cancer institutions in the world, actually an unscrupulous doctor who surreptitiously made off with valuable research that belongs to a University of Pennsylvania cancer institute and helped form a drugmaker in order to cash in on the work?
That is what the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania alleges in a lawsuit filed against Craig Thompson, who joined the facility as scientific director in 1999 and undertook various research projects. But rather than honor an agreement that any discoveries belong to the Institute, the lawsuit claims Thompson chose to "abscond with the fruits of the Abramson largesse," which has so far amounted to $110 million.
His work at the Institute involved developing a cancer metabolism research platform that was designed to examine the role that metabolic changes play in the origins, progression and death of cancer cells, according to the lawsuit. However, Thompson later co-founded Agios Pharmaceuticals, which was focused on researching cancer metabolish to develop new treatments, the suit states.
And this was considered a problem, because Thompson allegedly denied that any of the Agios research was intellectual property that belonged to the Institute, according to the lawsuit. Moreover, the Institute claims that he failed to properly disclose that he was an Agios co-founder or director. Meanwhile, Thompson last year began collaborating with a Sloan-Kettering oncologist while on a one-year leave and was then named ceo and president at the cancer center (see this).
The Institute, however, maintains that the alleged deception only came to light recently and the chain of events purportedly set in motion by Thompson, who is described as an "unscrupulus doctor," has caused an estimated $1 billion in damages. Also named as defendants are Agios and Celgene, which last year developed a collaboration to develop drugs using cancer metabolism research (see this and here is the lawsuit).
Disputes over the origins and ownership of potentially valuable medical research happen regularly, although not every episode involves the ceo of a high-profile institution. For this reason, the spat may be more closely watched than most, especially given the prominence that Memorial Sloan-Kettering has among the elite in New York.
We asked Thompson for comment, but have not received a response and will update you accordingly. An Agios spokesman writes us to say that the drugmaker is "aware of the stories that are circulating, but the company has not formally been served with any legal documentation. Agios always has and will continue to operate with the highest level of integrity. We will not be commenting on this litigation further at this time." We have not received a reply from Celgene, but will pass that along if we do.