In Wake of Terminations, Pharma Leaders Decry Actions That Will Limit Collaborations with Foreign Scientists

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Leaders from across the pharmaceutical industry are decrying negative actions taken by government agencies and universities against Chinese researchers in the United States. Those negative actions threaten the United States’ position as a leader in biomedical science, they claim in an open letter.

The concerns were outlined in a letter signed by top executives from noted pharma companies like Ovid Therapeutics, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Acorda Therapeutics and Decibel Therapeutics, as well as top investor groups like Atlas Venture and academic institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Northwestern University. The letter points to a number of actions taken by research institutions and universities against Chinese researchers or U.S. scientists of Chinese ancestry. Earlier this year there were two noted incidents of ethnically-Chinese scientists being caught up in concerns raised by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Institutes of Health regarding intellectual property theft. Chinese scientists at M.D. Anderson were terminated over concerns of intellectual property theft in April, then in May, a husband and wife neuroscience research team was terminated at Emory University after they were accused of failing to disclose ties to China that included financial funding. A 2017 report issued by the FBI noted that that intellectual-property theft by China costs the U.S. as much as $600 billion annually.

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With those incidents in mind, the signers of the letter said incidents like those noted above have created “a climate of fear and uncertainty in our biomedical communities.” The letter signers did not dismiss the dangers of intellectual property theft by foreign agents. In fact, in the letter, they urged that those who engage in such activities be prosecuted. But, they said actions that limit collaboration between Chinese and American scientists and companies would be deleterious to national interests. So too, would limitations on American residents of Chinese origin receiving government research funding or being employed by the NIH, the letter said. Only through collaboration with an international cadre of scientists and researchers will the wars against disease be won, the letter said. Those collaborations are important as the scientific community takes on diseases such as cancers, immune diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, infections and more.

“If we are to prevail in humanity’s common quest to conquer disease, our surest route is to include any person able to contribute, regardless of country of origin, religion, race, gender or other identity. The U.S. biomedical community stands for the principles of diversity and unity embedded in the founding principles of our country, without which our leadership indeed will soon be lost,” the letter states.

The letter further points to the necessity of an open exchange of ideas within the scientific community to attack these diseases. By turning out foreign-born scientists, the signatories of the letter said it will only weaken the research that could benefit from global insight. Citing former President Ronald Reagan, the letter writers said if the doors of America are closed to foreign scientists over these kinds of fears, then the U.S. will lose its position as the leader in biomedical science.

“An atmosphere of intimidation will encourage many outstanding scientists of Chinese origin to leave the US or never to come. In addition, scientists from other countries who are working in the U.S. cannot fail to get the message that they may well be next,” the letter warns.

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