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New Allegations Fly in Universities’ Fight Over Alzheimer’s Study

Xconomy San Diego — 

The fight between UC San Diego and the University of Southern California over an Alzheimer’s study escalated yesterday in a flurry of legal filings, with each school seeking emergency relief by asking a judge to issue court orders against the other side.

[Updated 7/14/15 1:40 pm ] San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes, who is presiding over the litigation, adjourned today’s hearing ordering that depositions in the case should proceed. Both sides raised fresh allegations of wrongdoing, and Hayes took those arguments under advisement. The judge said the hearing would resume tomorrow morning if needed.

The two universities are locked in a power struggle for control of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), a nationwide research program founded 24 years ago as a kind of joint venture by the National Institute on Aging and UC San Diego.

In a civil lawsuit filed July 2, UCSD alleges that former UCSD scientist Paul Aisen and at least eight colleagues who have joined Aisen at USC, conspired with USC officials to hijack the ADCS by changing computer access codes and passwords so they could maintain their administrative control of the Alzheimer’s program at USC. UC San Diego wants to regain control of the ADCS and resume its management of the program.

The ADCS was established to facilitate the collaborative discovery, development, and testing of new drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease among a consortium of institutions throughout the United States and Canada. The program gets about $100 million in both federal and private funding.

In a filing Monday, UC San Diego asked the judge to issue court orders compelling Aisen and several USC colleagues to produce documents and testify in a deposition after they failed to produce documents or to appear for a deposition yesterday in accordance with instructions Judge Hayes gave at a hearing last week. UCSD also has asked the judge to appoint a special master to ensure judicial orders are followed.

In a separate filing, USC requested the judge to issue an emergency restraining order that would prevent UCSD from using “superuser” access to the ADCS computer system and database until the court has decided whether oversight belongs with USC or UC San Diego. In a statement, USC said experts on Aisen’s team discovered late last week that UC San Diego had somehow gained superuser access (i.e. full administrative access to the system and database).

A USC spokesman said USC did not participate in the scheduled depositions because the discovery of UCSD’s access, and the need to request an emergency restraining order took precedence.

In response to a query from Xconomy, a statement released by UC San Diego explained that Aisen had put his own name on the Amazon Web server account where the ADCS database is stored. Amazon Web Services later determined that UC San Diego is “the rightful owner of the Amazon account,” and provided officials at UC San Diego with root access to the account.

According to the statement, however, “Dr. Aisen and his new colleagues at USC are continuing to exercise control over the data in the account; we do not currently have exclusive administrative control, which we are entitled to by law.”