Investigators ‘Caught in Middle’ between UCSD & Ludwig Cancer Institute File Suit Against Latter

Feb 10, 2020 | Cancer Research, Lawsuit, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, UCSD, University of California, University of California San Diego

Investigators ‘Caught in Middle’ between UCSD & Ludwig Cancer Institute File Suit Against Latter

A group of prominent University of California, San Diego (UCSD)-based investigators have filed a lawsuit against the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) to compel it to continue its research funding at existing levels. LICR partners with Universities and funds investigators worldwide. They are now winding down their UCSD operation by 2023 but, according to the investigators, promised to keep funding at the existing rate till then. However, as they are now “tapering” down the funding and materially cutting into the researchers’ budgets, the group apparently had to act. Moreover, the investigators purport that LICR alleges that the research quality emanating out of the UCSD investigators is not optimal. It turns out that the relationship between UCSD and LICR is frayed and the investigators could be caught in the middle of something bigger. Regardless, healthy finances are inexorably intertwined with successful research operations.

TrialSite News offers and overview of this little reported on but important research conflict reported on by Michael Price from ScienceMag.

Who is Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research (LICR)?

LICR was founded in 1971 as a nonprofit organization. Based in New York City and Zurich, the organization oversees nine research centers co-located in universities and research hospitals including several in America.  LICR reports that they have contributed $2.5 billion to cancer research since its founding. Ludwig, himself a self-made man from Michigan, parlayed a global business from his father to a business empire based on shipping and real estate. By the early 1970s, and one of the wealthiest persons in the world, he founded LICR as an independent organization during the same year his friend, President Richard Nixon, declared the “War on Cancer” which led to the establishment of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.  Ludwig believed to successfully tackled this problem required the best minds operating in the most favorable conditions with the best resources and this principal powers LICR.

LICR Model

LICR partners with prominent academic medical centers, such as UCSD, and research hospitals and co-employs faculty members of LICR and their host institutions with LICR at least partially contributing financial resources to the investigator’s studies. Price from Science reports that LICR generates revenues from research work product—such as patents and licensable revenue—from the research operations. Lawsuit figures reveals that LICR contributed between $11.5 million and $13.2 million annually to UCSD including $3 million in annual research funding.

The Lawsuit—Amended

In the recently amended lawsuit, the plaintiff investigators argue that by “gradually drawing down its funding for cancer prevention and treatment research” the defendant is not only behaving in an “unethical and reckless” way but also breaching their contract and committing a few other civil wrongs such as defamation as the investigators claim LICR is damaging their professional relationships as LICR claims the researchers are not performing cancer research at a level “on par with their seniority and funding.”

The plaintiff investigators seek the court to block the “tapering down” of financing till 2023. Apparently, LICR is winding down operations in a number of important locations, closing branches in Brussels, Melbourne (life science hub of Australia), São Paulo, Stockholm and Uppsala.

Prominent Group

The group of investigator plaintiffs includes Don Cleveland, Arshad DesaiRichard KolodnerPaul MischelKaren Oegema and Ben Ren. With a primary focus on the study of tumor biology and cancer genomics, the group also receive support from the National institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Breakthrough Prize and other sources. 

Underlying Clash between LICR & UCSD

Apparently, some insiders, such as Jeremy Rich, a neuro-oncologist at UCSD School of Medicine, shared with Science that the relationship between UCSD and LICR has been in “a downward spiral” for years. University politics can be intense and, according to this source, UCSD doesn’t see LICR as its own asset, and the investigators are caught in the middle. As the investigators are employed by UCSD but also are constituents of LICR they are essentially caught in the middle of the two conflicting organizations. Dr. Rich noted for Science that the only loser in this is cancer research: “Our enemies are not one another, but cancer.”


LICR UCSD notes on their website that among other things, Their “San Diego branch was recently ranked 42nd worldwide among nonprofit research institutions in biomedical sciences.” Moreover, offering kudos to UCSD conveys they are “ranked 6th worldwide among academic institutions in biomedical sciences and 9th worldwide among all institutions in biomedical sciences.”


LICR should meet its contractual obligations if it is proven to be that they are not. On the other hand, the prominent research investigators should be prepared to diversify and identify how to maintain funding via alternative channels. They are under the employ of UCSD, one of the most prominent biomedical research institutions in the world. This counts for a lot when organizing and collaborating for new sources. LICR has to run its own operation and if it deems that it must adjust its cost structure, over time then that is its right—again, as long as it doesn’t breach contracts along the way.

Source: ScienceMag


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