By Jeff Akst, The-Scientist.com
A six-month dispute between a biotech company and a university primate
facility it contracted for a study on spinal cord injury has prompted a
lawsuit. Cambridge-based biotech InVivo Therapeutics filed suit against
Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) with the US District Courts in
Boston earlier this month (Sept. 1), claiming the school's primate center
improperly cared for monkeys during the study, resulting in the death of
four animals and a premature end to the research.
"We were surprised by the lawsuit," OHSU spokesperson Jim Newman told The Scientist. "We disagree with the claims that were made by InVivo and we plan to vigorously defend ourselves."
In January of this year, InVivo contracted OHSU's Oregon National Primate Center to host their research, which involved severing the spinal cords of rhesus monkeys to test the company's polymer device, designed to aid the recovery of lower body motor skills after spinal cord injury. But the study was halted in late February, after the first seven animals to undergo spinal-severing surgery developed bladder complications. Within days, four of the monkeys had to be euthanized.
InVivo is suing OHSU for not giving the monkeys proper post-surgical care, which they say caused the routine bladder problems to become more serious issues. They further charge OHSU with halting the experiment and euthanizing the animals against the company's wishes.
When OHSU requested that InVivo pay the second installment of an agreed-upon fee, the company refused, citing "OHSU's incompetence" and claiming it "had ruined the study, cost InVivo hundreds of thousands of dollars, and jeopardized the future of [the] company," according to the lawsuit.
OHSU counters that all monkeys received appropriate round-the-clock care after surgery and that it was InVivo who called a halt to the surgeries. "The day after surgeries began, we noticed that the surgery results were more severe than the company had predicted," Newman said. "We informed InVivo of these problems, and they voluntarily stopped the research."
According to InVivo's complaint, the company renegotiated with the primate center to alter the study given the complications, but after OHSU demanded the company pay an additional $557,000 above the originally contracted price, InVivo ditched the experiment altogether. The lawsuit further claimed that OHSU is still demanding $400,000 in payment, and that the university even attempted to "strong-arm" the company by refusing to return more than $200,000 worth of InVivo's surgical and research equipment.
The InVivo lawsuit is not the first time the OHSU primate center has been accused of not providing proper care to their animals. In 2008, PETA complaints about the center spurred an investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which handles violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In December, USDA issued a warning letter for failure to provide proper veterinary care, citing the death of a pregnant monkey after a researcher failed to notice she was having a troubled labor, a sponge being left in a monkey after surgery, and a surgery performed on the wrong monkey.
That government warning "was a very rare occurrence" at the school, Newman told The Boston Globe. "When we received it, we went through our records, which go back a decade, and we could not find another instance of receiving a warning."
InVivo did not respond to email or phone requests for comment.
Learn more about primates in laboratories at Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN).