UC San Diego suing USC for alleged conspiracy to steal data, funding, faculty

Former head of Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study at center of lawsuit

Two California universities are in a legal battle over an Alzheimer's disease researcher and funding.

The University of California (UC) San Diego filed a lawsuit against University of Southern California (USC), research scientist Paul Aisen, and eight of his colleagues alleging that Aisen conspired to take employees, data, and federal funding from an Alzheimer's disease study center. UC San Diego says Aisen, UC regents, and others committed contract interference, civil conspiracy, and computer crimes to take information and eight other researchers with him from UC San Diego to USC.

UC officials say they have been cut off from the Alzheimer's disease project data due to the defendants' actions—meaning that the school may lose federal and private funding totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

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The case is to be decided through a jury trial, and UC San Diego is seeking an unspecified amount of money.

Contested research project

Aisen led the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), an effort to decrease research-to-patient times for treatments. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) funds the project, and it has been based at UC San Diego since 1991. Total funding for the effort is about $100 million, $55 million of which comes from the NIA.

Currently, a drug trial involving 1,000 participants is underway.

When Aisen resigned from UC San Diego last month, the institution said he could not keep the government funding and named two researchers to replace him as head of the study.

Shortly after, USC announced Aisen will lead its new Alzheimer's research center.

Details of the lawsuit

UC says that Aisen and colleagues worked to transfer the study to USC while still employed by UC San Diego. The lawsuit says the researchers failed to obtain consent from NIA and made false statements to employees to encourage them to move to USC with them.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges USC gave Aisen "a strong personal financial incentive to interfere" with UC contracts by awarding him a $500,000 per year salary that was to come from outside funding.

According to UC, the defendants took control of the Alzheimer's data, put it behind an Amazon account, and have not responded to requests for the account's password.

NIA has said its funding remains with UC San Diego.

"We are proud of our work, grateful for our partners and disappointed that one faculty member has chosen to separate in such a way that puts the ADCS' work in jeopardy," UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said in a statement.

USC has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are surprised and disappointed that the University of California San Diego elected to sue its departing faculty member and his team, as well as USC, rather than manage this transition collaboratively, as is the well-accepted custom and practice in academia," the university said in a statement (Fikes, Los Angeles Times, 6/5).

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