UCSD heist costs USC $50 million

Battle of the So-Cal research titans capped by self-denigration

USC gets to keep Paul Aisen and his group.
  • USC gets to keep Paul Aisen and his group.

A high-profile 2015 raid by the University of Southern California on the University of California San Diego's home-grown but disgruntled Alzheimer's research unit will cost the Los Angeles school $50 million, according to the terms of a July 1 settlement agreement released by UCSD under the state's public records act.

The big cash payout, along with an agreement to remain silent after issuing a one-page statement of self-denigration for luring UCSD's high-profile Paul Aisen and team to a new research operation created by USC, apparently brings to a final end an epic battle between the academic behemoths.

"USC and Dr. Paul Aisen regret that the manner in which Dr. Aisen and members of the ADCS staff left UC San Diego and brought research assets to USC created disruption to UC San Diego," says USC's public statement dictated by the settlement.

"These actions did not align with the standards of ethics and integrity which USC expects of all its faculty, administrators, and staff. USC is committed to, and wants to be known for, ethics, integrity and the pursuit of academic excellence, and it has already implemented sweeping changes to this end."

"USC shall not initiate any other media outreach concerning the Litigation or this Agreement except to respond to public statements issued by any of the UCSD Parties that go beyond the UCSD Statement," adds the agreement.

UCSD's statement provided for under the agreement, on the other hand, is self-flattering. "UC San Diego researchers and clinicians continue to contribute insights critical for understanding and treating this devastating disorder."

But USC didn't come away entirely empty-handed in the deal. It keeps Aisen and his group and doesn't have to pick up any of the state's considerable legal fees resulting from the years-long courtroom warfare. In 2015, USC claimed that Aisen’s Alzheimer’s unit was worth $93.5 million in research contracts alone.

USC is also getting permanent custody of the Aisen group's so-called Electronic Data Capture System, "which includes use by study sponsors, study sites and collaborators. USC is further authorized to use, maintain, and modify the Validation Documents necessary for the maintenance and operation of the EDC, which are currently in the possession, custody, and control of USC. "

Adds the settlement, "UCSD will authorize access to the GitHub, Bitbucket, and Google Apps accounts. USC will copy all EDC data related to the former ADCS Studies from the GitHub, Bitbucket, and Google Apps accounts no later than sixty days after the Effective Date.” No patents or other items intellectual property are mentioned by the document.

The battle broke out in May, 2015 when Aisen announced that he had cut a deal with USC to move his research to a new center being set up by the L.A. university, which UCSD said amounted to an unlawful hijacking.

USC responded that UCSD had “pressured Dr. Aisen to move [the Alzheimer’s program] to the UCSD campus so that UCSD could collect indirect costs of up to 55 percent, a move which would have crippled the program financially by diverting too much grant funding from research projects into UCSD’s Administration.”

UCSD lawyers subsequently alleged that Aisen and colleagues had made off with the fruits of university-sponsored research and wouldn't turn over computer passwords to a trove of scientific data.

"Defendants have refused to cooperate in the restoration of the [Alzheimer's] Data and Systems and refused to provide passwords or control of accounts housing the data as required by the Court's Preliminary Injunction Order," declared a University of California lawyer in a November 2015 court filing.

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The Light News had a report on this matter in today's edition. It was not complete, and didn't mention the dollar settlement. Typical. Matt has done a better job of describing the suit and its origins.

USC is eating crow these days, time after time. As a brand it suffers due to its many missteps and overreaches. I'm not particularly sympathetic to either university, and battles like this occur all the time within campuses. But to have one "big U" poach from another one is not common at all. There may be some larger implications from this settlement than are apparent or obvious to us laypersons. Biological and medical research is big, big business now, and the stakes are very high.

Yet their administrators keep getting raises and are never held accountable.

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