Controversial Alzheimer’s researcher accused of 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 he falsified records to obtain grants totaling about $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 roughly six million Americans—a number expected to double by 2050—and promising treatments are generating enormous excitement. Cassava’s supply has soared after each round of reported results from its trials.

But some scientists had publicly disparaged the drug, saying its mechanism of action and alleged results were improbable. Some went further, accusing the company and Dr. Wang, its scientific adviser, of manipulating results. Several journals retracted or added statements of concern to papers by Dr. Wang and a co-author at Cassava.

After the charges were announced on Friday, Cassava shares fell to their lowest price since October 2020.

Remi Barbier, Cassava’s founder and CEO, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement on its website, the company said that Dr. Wang’s work “was related to the early stages of development of the company’s drug candidates and diagnostic tests.”

“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.”

“The university has and will continue to cooperate as fully as possible with the federal government’s investigation until the matter is resolved,” a university spokesperson said in a statement.

Dr. Wang did not respond to requests for comment on the complaint.

According to the Justice Department, Dr. Wang is now accused of falsifying data in grant applications over a nearly eight-year period ending in April 2023. 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 prison sentence of 55 years.

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

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

“However, the NIH takes scientific misconduct very seriously,” she said. “The NIH promptly and carefully reviews all allegations of scientific misconduct received.”

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