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Former US University professor accused of occular research heist worth US$1.5M

A US University has filed a lawsuit against a former professor, accusing him of stealing a graduate’s research to patent a new ocular drug that has since earned him US$1.5 million (AU$2.13 m).

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) recently sued Dr Ashim Mitra for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to poach dry eye drug treatment Cequa, an invention the University claims ownership of, which has the potential to generate US$10 million (AU$14.2 m) in royalties.

The lawsuit seeks to designate graduate student Mr Kishore Cholkar, who worked under the supervision of Mitra, as the rightful inventor based on his research from 2010. It is claimed Cholkar discovered a novel way of delivering a pharmaceutical drug to the eye using hydrogenated castor oil and a chemical called Octoxynol-40. The formulation was intended to deliver drugs to the back of the eye better than typical eyedrops.

UMCK alleges Mitra worked with his wife, who also worked in her husband’s laboratory, and drug companies to patent and commercialise the therapy, which has already obtained US Food and Drug Administration approval.

Mitra, who has since resigned from his post, is accused of passing Cholkar’s experimental results to Auven Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company based in the United States Virgin Islands that eventually entered into a contract with Mitra and patented the inventions, The New York Times reported.

A 2015 patent for this technology, crediting Mitra and an Auven employee as the inventors, reportedly using Cholkar’s work without mentioning his name.

According to UMKC policy, the University owns the rights to discoveries made by staff and students while they are working within the scope of their employment.

“Mitra stole UMKC-owned inventions, sold them to industry, assisted those companies in patenting and commercialising them, denied credit to a deserving student and reaped a personal financial windfall -- all the while concealing his efforts and denying his involvement,” a University of Missouri statement said.

Mitra told CNN that “everyone is trying to jump in and get a piece of the pie”, adding that he conceived of the formulation with the drug companies through his private consultancy business.

He said Cholkar arrived after the patent was signed, and the student’s work involved a part of the eye not affected by the drug. He added that he’s consulting with lawyers on how best to tackle the lawsuit.

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