Questions Arise Over a Congressman's Ties With Australian Biotech Innate Immunotherapeutics

Published: Feb 20, 2017

Questions Arise Over a Congressman's Ties With Australian Biotech Innate Immunotherapeutics February 20, 2017
(Last Updated: February 21, 2017 at 6:25am PT)

By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Did U.S. Rep. Chris Collins violate Australian securities law concerning his investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics?

Collins, among others including newly-conformed U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, were both early investors in the company. The concern is over how much control Collins has over Innate Immunotherapeutics. Collins owns 17 percent of Innate and is the company’s largest investor, the Buffalo News said. Additionally, his son and daughter are also big investors. Kaiser Health News (KHN) said the three Collins’ control approximately 21 percent of the company. Also, many Innate investors include contributors to Collins’ political campaigns.

Australian law calls for a person to obtain shareholder approval before taking “effective control” of more than 20 percent of a company, The Australian reported. But James Wheeldon, an Australian attorney and Innate investor, filed a claim that Collins failed to obtain the necessary approval. Wheeldon said Collins failed to disclose his Innate holdings to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) within two business days of becoming a “substantial stockholder” as Australian law requires, KHN said. Wheeldon also said Collins did not inform the ASX until 18 months after his holdings grew to be the largest. Wheeldon also said that Collins never informed the ASX that he had both a familial and professional relationship with other Innate investors. That news only came to light following Price’s confirmation hearings, Wheeldon told The Australian.

As of this morning, that country has yet to form a “sitting panel” to investigate whether or not Collins is in violation, according to a report in The Australian. Simon Wilkinson, chief executive officer of Innate, said in a statement that all company financial documents “fully informed” financial markets about Collins’ investments, Kaiser Health News reported.

A spokesperson for Collins told The Australian, as well as the other media outlets, that Collins has followed “all ethical guidelines” concerning his investments in Innate.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute is helping Innate conduct a clinical trial for its ovarian cancer vaccine, MIS416. Collins had been reported as part owner of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, however a representative of the center said the institute is “a freestanding cancer center operated through a public benefit corporation,” with no individuals holding ownership.

The trial is being supported in part by funds from the National Institutes of Health. However, Innate’s Wilkinson told media that Collings played no part in either lining up the clinical trial for Roswell nor in securing U.S. funding for the trial. Roswell’s involvement came after Kunle Odunsi, the lead investigator in the trial, learned about MIS416 in a presentation he attended without Collins. Roswell has been testing the MIS416 in animals since 2011. Those tests have also included grant money from the National Cancer Institute, KHN reported.

MIS416 has been considered a candidate for a variety of other diseases too, including advanced multiple sclerosis. Trials testing the drug for that disease are expected to begin later this year in Australia.

One other concern raised here in the U.S. regarding Collins’ investment is he sits on the health subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees healthcare funding, KHN said. While again, that’s not a violation of U.S. law, KHN said members must “take care to disclose possible conflicts of interest because they can erode the public’s trust in government.”

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