Struggling Alzheimer's Researcher Charged with Fraud

A scientist whose research was at the center of a controversy over a potential Alzheimer's drug has been charged with fraud.

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

Dr. Wang’s studies have supported research on a diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease and on simufilam, a drug in late-stage clinical trials. Simufilam’s maker, Cassava Sciences, a Texas-based pharmaceutical company, has claimed that the drug improves cognition in Alzheimer’s patients.

Alzheimer's disease affects about six million Americans, a number that is expected to double by 2050, and promising treatments generate enormous excitement. Cassava's stock has skyrocketed with each round of reported results from its studies.

But some scientists have publicly denigrated the drug, saying its mechanism of action and purported results were far-fetched. Some have gone further and accused the company and Dr. Wang, its scientific adviser, of manipulating the results. Several journals have retracted or attached statements of concern to papers by Dr. Wang and a Cassava co-author.

Following the announcement of the indictment 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 Dr. Wang’s work “was related to the early development of the company’s drug candidate and diagnostic test.”

“Dr. Wang and his former public university medical faculty had no involvement in the company’s Phase 3 clinical trials of simufilam,” the statement read.

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 college is a part, fought for months to gain access to Dr. Wang’s files. Ultimately, members of the investigative committee concluded that Dr. Wang had been “reckless” in failing to retain or provide the original data, a crime that “amounts to significant research misconduct.”

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

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

Dr. Wang is now accused of falsifying data in grant applications for nearly eight years, ending in April 2023, according to the Department of Justice. Some of the grants funded Dr. Wang’s salary and lab research at the university.

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

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Washington office is investigating the case. The indictment was issued in Maryland, where the NIH is headquartered.

In an emailed statement, NIH spokeswoman Renate Myles said the agency “does not discuss grant compliance reviews on specific funded awards, recipient institutions, or supported researchers.”

“However, NIH takes research misconduct very seriously,” he said. “NIH promptly and carefully investigates all allegations of research misconduct that it receives.”

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