Texas Cancer Center Ousts 3 Researchers Over China IP Theft Concerns

April 22, 2019 Updated: April 22, 2019

A world-class cancer research center in Texas has ousted three Asian senior researchers whom U.S. federal authorities recently identified as being involved in efforts to pilfer intellectual property for the Chinese regime.

The MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas was notified last year by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about five faculty members who had potentially attempted to steal U.S. scientific research, according to an April 19 report by The Houston Chronicle, citing Dr. Peter Pisters, president of MD Anderson.

The report cited internal documents detailing conflicts of interest and unreported foreign income by the faculty members.

MD Anderson, located in Houston, is dedicated to cancer patient care, research, education, and prevention. It has more than 1,600 faculty members and nearly 20,000 employees.

All of the suspected five faculty members are Asian, three were identified in reporting by The Chronicle and the magazine Science as ethnically Chinese, although it is unclear whether the three who were fired are Chinese.

Of the three, two resigned ahead of the termination proceedings. Officials decided firing wasn’t warranted for one of the other professors and are still investigating the fifth, according to The Chronicle.

Insider Information

Pisters didn’t give their names—which were redacted in the internal documents—but an anonymous senior researcher at MD Anderson told the Chinese-language Epoch Times on April 21 that Wu Xifeng and Hung Mien-Chie resigned from the cancer center and returned to China in January.

Wu had been under investigation by the FBI for 15 months before she told staff in January that she was retiring, according to the insider, who said he was a colleague of the researchers before they left.

Wu was a professor at the Department of Epidemiology, among other titles, according to the cancer center website. Wu was born in China, went to France in 1990 for her master’s degree, then went to study for her doctorate degree at the University of Texas in 1992.

Wu is a member of the Changjiang Scholars program, the top academic title issued by China’s Ministry of Education. In March, she was appointed president at the newly founded national research institute for major medical data based at Zhejiang University.

Hung Mien-Chie, a Taiwan-born molecular biologist and cancer researcher, was a professor at the department of molecular and cellular oncology at MD Anderson.

The insider said Hung had been investigated by the FBI for more than a year and resigned suddenly in January. On Feb. 1, he was appointed president of the China Medical University, located in Taiwan. Hung told The Chronicle that his “retirement” from MD Anderson wasn’t connected to any investigation.

Science magazine reported that 10 senior ethnically Chinese researchers have left MD Anderson in the past 17 months.

The dismissals come amid heightened concern within the Trump administration that foreign governments, including China, have been using students and visiting scholars to steal intellectual property from confidential grant applications.

At a gathering in Houston last summer, FBI officials warned Texas academic and medical institutions of the threat, particularly from insiders, and called on them to notify the agency of any suspicious behavior.

Pisters told The Chronicle that MD Anderson was first notified by the FBI in 2015 about IP theft concerns.

In December 2017, the cancer center consented to giving the FBI computer hard drives containing the emails of several of its staff members.

Eight months later, NIH sent academic institutions across the United States a letter warning about the threat of IP theft, and asked for help curbing “unacceptable breaches of trust and confidentiality.”

In December 2018, NIH published a report raising concerns that the Chinese regime’s “Thousand Talents” recruitment program—which aims to lure top Chinese scientists working abroad to move to China—amounted to transferring U.S. intellectual property, including research produced with NIH grant money.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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