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Indian-Origin Professor Accused of Stealing Student’s Research

Indian-Origin Professor Accused of Stealing Student’s Research

New Delhi: Prominent Indian-origin professor Ashim Mitra, already infamous for being accused of exploiting his students as servants, hit the headlines again last week when the University of Missouri sued the former pharmacy professor.

The university has alleged that he stole and sold a graduate student’s”groundbreaking” drug formulation for $1.5 million, and that could gain as much as $10 million more in royalties, reports said.

The university has claimed ownership over the invention of a new treatment for dry eye that Mitra sold to a drug company. According to university policy, the rights to discoveries made by staff and students while they are working at the school are owned by it.

The lawsuit seeks to designate the student, whose research Mitra allegedly stole, Kishore Cholkar, as the rightful inventor to the patent based on his research from 2010. Cholkar currently works at a California-based pharmaceutical company.

“The university seeks to restore its rightful ownership interest in and its resulting right to a fair share of the proceeds to be generated from the groundbreaking, patented inventions that led to this new FDA-approved drug formulation,” the lawsuit said.

The university said that Mitra assisted drug companies in patenting and commercialising these inventions, while denying his involvement to university officials.

In a statement to CNN, the university said:

“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.”

Mitra has denied the allegations. In January, Mitra had resigned during proceedings to consider his dismissal. According to the New York Times, the university had been investigating Mitra for potential misconduct since May, but did not specify the nature of the alleged misconduct.

The drug at the centre of the storm, Cequa, which uses nanotechnology to make it a more effective treatment than traditional eyedrops, received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in August.

A website launched recently, has advertised the drug as “coming soon” and describes the drug as “a calcineurin inhibitor immunosuppressant indicated to increase tear production in patients with keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye)”.

Also read: Indian-Origin Professor in the US Accused of Using Students as Domestic Workers

The university has also accused Mitra’s wife, Ranjana Mitra, of helping him in his plot. Ranjana Mira was employed by the university as a research associate at the time. Also named in the lawsuit are two pharmaceutical companies that used the invention.

“All of the alleged wrongdoing on the part of myself and my wife can be proven to be false,” Mitra said in a statement.

Mitra told CNN he conceived of the formulation with the drug companies through his private consultancy business, adding that “the student arrived after the patent was signed.”

Past accusations

In November 2018, American daily Kansas City Star had reported about how Mitra made his students do forced labour. The newspaper quoted nearly a dozen former students who said the pharmacy professor had made them “bail putrid water” from his basement, water his plants, haul equipment and even feed the dog.

“I considered my life at UMKC nothing more than modern slavery,” Kamesh Kuchimanchi, a Ph.D student said.

According to the students, Mitra would hint, and at time even make direct threats of having their visas revoked if they didn’t follow through on his demands.

Mitra’s former colleagues corroborated these claims to The Star.

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