Big Blowup Over HIV Testing Technology

(CN) - "Catastrophic scientific negligence" by a federal contractor set back the discovery of new treatments for drug-resistant HIV strains for years, a technology company claims in court.
     Trana Discovery sued Southern Research Institute in Raleigh, N.C., Federal Court, alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation and negligence.
     Trana Discovery claims that Southern used Trana's proprietary testing technology and then disseminated false reports of its own research with it.
     The result, Trana says in the lawsuit, "is devastating to Trana in that it has undermined Trana's credibility, the value of its technology, and the reliability of any research conducted with it in the scientific community, the pharmaceutical industry, with investors, and with the federal government, which sponsors a great deal of research that could employ Trana's testing platform."
     The complaint continues: "There is no doubt that Trana's technology works properly, but research conducted with it must be conducted in accordance with accepted research practices and in an environment devoted to scientific integrity, all of which Trana reasonably expected Southern to provide."
     Southern, a nonprofit based in Birmingham, Ala., is "an internationally recognized research and development organization intimately involved in the discovery or rejection of potential treatments for dread diseases such as HIV," the complaint states. "Southern has achieved this status by cultivating a reputation for impeccable research and achieving results that indeed have contributed to life-saving scientific discoveries. Much of the research conducted by Southern, including the research described herein, is funded by federal agencies, including the United States Public Health Service ('PHS') and intended to, in part, support submissions by the pharmaceutical industry to other federal agencies to market a new drug. Accordingly, research conducted by Southern and the reports generated by it of that research determines whether new breakthrough drugs will be identified or overlooked.
     "This action concerns catastrophic scientific negligence in the research undertaken by Southern surrounding potential new chemical compounds, and therefore, drug candidates to treat drug-resistant strains of HIV, and the taint of Southern's negligence upon breakthrough technology, owned by Trana, and utilized by Southern in its research for discovering such drugs."
     Trana claims that Southern used Trana technology to deliver "exceedingly positive" test results to one or more federal agencies, and the public.
     Trana then shared those results with an "enthusiastic scientific community," and with investors and drug companies.
     But in June 2012, Trana claims, it "learned for the first time that Southern's reports regarding its research were false, making everything that Trana reported to others about that research false."
     "Ultimately, Trana has learned that while its technology performed as designed and expected, Southern, despite its international reputation to the contrary, undertook research that in this instance lacked scientific integrity, was not scientifically stringent or ethically responsible, failed to respect the rights of Trana, and failed to result in the collection of data that was accurate, complete, scientifically meritorious, replicable or reliable."
     Trana claims that it started to doubt Southern's results when Southern CEO Jack Secrist told Trana in June 2012 that a lost thumb drive had been found during a laboratory cleaning.
     Secrist told Trana that discovery of the thumb drive led it to conclude that it needed to repeat studies on 125 chemical compounds. But "Southern refused, and continues to refuse, to provide Trana with details of what was contained on this mysterious thumb drive," according to the lawsuit.
     Trana claims that Southern has "undermined Trana's credibility, the value of its technology, and the reliability of any research conducted with it in the scientific community, the pharmaceutical industry, with investors, and with the federal government, which sponsors a great deal of research that could employ Trana's testing platform."
     Trana claims that its technology works properly but that "(i)n the first major application of Trana's platform - the search for new drugs to treat otherwise resistant strains of HIV, a global scourge - Southern's negligence has set back the discovery of new treatments by years, if not longer, due to the damage done to the technology's credibility among those who would purchase or seek a license for its intellectual property and, therefore, to finance its continued use."
     Trana seeks damages of more than $75,000 for each count, plus costs.
     It is represented by Gary Shipman, with Shipman & Wright, in Wilmington, N.C.