ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Amid allegations that vital cancer research may have been compromised to China, the CEO of Tampa-based Moffit Cancer Center resigned. Days later, the Florida House Speaker announced an investigation into the institution's ties to China's "Thousand Talents" program and if any other research organizations have been affected.
The Tampa Bay Times was first to report on the shakeup.
Ex-CEO Dr. Alan List announced his resignation last month because of his connection to the Chinese program. House Speaker Jose Oliva said the House created a select committee to "determine the extent of foreign meddling in taxpayer-funded research."
The head of that committee is Rep. Chris Sprowls, who serves cities in northern Pinellas County. He recently spoke with 10News and called the conduct by Moffitt leadership "appalling."
"To have monetary relationships with...a foreign government...who wants to have a hand in this research," Sprowls said. "Those folks had to go."
Sprowls said Monday that the basis of the investigation going forward is determining if the intellectual property at research institutions around the state has been compromised or has the potential to be compromised.
"Florida taxpayers spend millions, hundreds of millions on research over the decades," Sprowls said.
Sprowls noted that while collaboration with another country for research could be seen as a positive thing, it could also make us "vulnerable to other countries" who don't put as much of a focus on finding cures and answers to medical problems.
Just last week, a promising cancer researcher in Boston was arrested and accused of stealing samples and trying to smuggle them to China. According to the New York Times, the researcher planned to take the samples to a hospital in China and publish the results under his own name.
Sprowls said the investigation and shakeups at Moffitt doesn't concern treatment for patients but rather Floridians and taxpayers who helped fund the research and treatments.
"Now we have to figure out how did this happen, and how do we prevent it from happening again," Sprowls said. "(There's) nothing more dangerous to our global standing in the world than having our intellectual property stolen by foreign governments."
The committee is comprised of 12 state House representatives who will report findings to the Speaker and the House, then recommend action. Sprowls said the investigation is still in the beginning stages, so he couldn't yet say when the committee would meet.
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