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Judge Rejects Court Order Requested in Fight Over Alzheimer’s Study

Xconomy San Diego — 

A San Diego judge denied the University of Southern California’s request for a temporary restraining order against UC San Diego yesterday afternoon, as the two universities continued their fight for control of a nationwide study on Alzheimer’s disease.

USC submitted its request for the order Tuesday, alleging that officials at UC San Diego had somehow gained “superuser” access through Amazon Web Services to the computer system and database for the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS). UC San Diego founded the ADCS in 1991 as a kind of joint venture with the National Institute on Aging to facilitate the discovery, development, and testing of new drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

The legal dispute began in June, after USC hired scientist Paul Aisen and at least eight colleagues who had been overseeing the ADCS at UC San Diego.   Aisen joined UCSD in 2007 to serve as director of the Alzheimer’s study.

Aisen left UC San Diego on June 21 to become the founding director of USC’s new San Diego-based Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute.

In a civil lawsuit filed July 2, UCSD alleges that Aisen and his team conspired with USC to misappropriate the ADCS by changing computer access codes and passwords so they could maintain their administrative control of the Alzheimer’s program at USC. The program currently has about $100 million in both federal and private funding.

USC sought the court order after discovering that UCSD officials had gained root access (i.e. full administrative access) to the ADCS computer system and the database storing clinical trial data and other research collected over the past 24 yeas.

But in a ruling issued yesterday afternoon, San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes wrote “there was nothing surprising about the fact that UCSD was able to persuade Amazon to restore access to the account to UCSD.” As the judge noted, “uncontroverted evidence” showed that UCSD had paid $96,000 to establish the account with Amazon Web Services in the first place.

In a comment apparently aimed at Aisen and his team, Hayes wrote, “There is no evidence that [UCSD] has damaged any data maintained in the [ADCS] system, or that [Aisen and his team] have a right to access the system outside of their previous employment.”

The judge added that USC’s claim that UC San Diego could disrupt the entire ADCS system and the clinical trial data stored there “appears at this time to be speculative and without support in the record.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for UC San Diego interviewed Aisen yesterday, after the two sides had worked out a schedule for taking his deposition, along with two of his staffers, in accordance with an order Judge Hayes issued on July 8.

After Hayes issued her ruling yesterday afternoon, USC issued a statement to The San Diego Union-Tribune, saying that the litigation initiated by UC San Diego “appears to serve no legal purpose” since UCSD is suing for something it already has: control of a clinical trial database.

“The situation is a standoff. UCSD controls the database, and USC employs the researchers and staff who know how to use it.”