GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – The US Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that the Van Andel Research Institute has agreed to pay $ 1.1 million to resolve allegations it violated the False Claims Act by failing to disclose a foreign material of an award from the National Institutes of Health and failing to disclose support for foreign research.
In addition to this settlement – the second settlement with the institute in two years involving allegations of undisclosed foreign influence in federally sponsored research – the NIH has imposed specific award conditions on all NIH grants. of the institute.
This includes requiring executive-level personal certifications as to the accuracy of NIH submissions, the withdrawal of certain extended grant authorizations, and the removal of all NIH Institute grants from the streamlined award process without competition.
“Full disclosure is essential not only to validate scientific research, but also in the intense competition for scientific funding from the federal government,” said US Attorney Andrew Birge. “The NIH application process is intended to provide information essential to the agency’s responsible handling of billions of taxpayer dollars. My office will continue to use all available tools to maintain the integrity of this process. The research community should recognize that these cases are not going to go away. “
“The government’s allegations in this case should remind research institutions of the potential consequences of failing to adequately investigate ‘red flags’ regarding researchers’ relationships and affiliations,” said Lamont Pugh III, special agent in charge of the Chicago area of the HHS-OIG. “The HHS-OIG will continue to hold recipients to account and protect the government’s investment in taxpayer resources, regardless of the length or complexity of the investigation. “
NIH Requires Grant Recipients To Disclose And Obtain Prior Agency Approval If A “Significant” Scientific Element Or Segment Of An NIH-Funded Project Will Be Performed Outside The United States
“Foreign components” may include collaborations with foreign researchers who are performing experiments in support of an NIH grant, whether or not those foreign researchers receive NIH funding.
The NIH also requires grant recipients to disclose “other support,” defined as all resources made available to researchers in support of and / or related to all of their research efforts, whether or not those resources are of value. monetary.
“Other Support” includes valuable materials that are not available free of charge and selection for foreign talent recruiting programs.
In December 2019, the Van Andel Research Institute paid $ 5.5 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by submitting grant applications and progress reports in which it did not disclose “d ‘other support’, including grants from the Chinese government that funded two researchers.
About a month later, U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested an individual – a former Van Andel Research Institute researcher and current professor at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China – at the Detroit Metro Airport with undeclared biological research samples in his baggage.
The government alleged that the professor said the research samples were intended for the lab of a professor at the Van Andel Research Institute.
This prompted another investigation by the institute, which resulted in the following allegations:
- Foreign component not disclosed
- Undisclosed “other support” (biological research samples)
- Undisclosed foreign talent program
About a third of the settlement funds will be returned to the NIH, with the remainder going to the US Treasury.