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Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. COURTESY PHOTO

Van Andel Research Institute to pay $1.1M to settle more DOJ allegations over failure to disclose foreign ties to grants

BY Wednesday, September 01, 2021 04:43pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Van Andel Research Institute has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle more allegations of undisclosed foreign ties involving federal research grants, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.

The settlement comes in addition to $5.5 million the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) paid in 2019 for failing to disclose on federal grant applications that Chinese government grants funded two of its researchers.

The latest settlement resolves claims that VARI violated the federal False Claims Act by failing to disclose foreign support for two VARI researchers who served as principal investigators on National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards. The NIH has also imposed certain conditions on awards granted to VARI, including requirements of executive-level certifications on grant submissions. The conditions will remain in place through September 2022.

NIH grants are highly competitive and require institutions to disclose all financial resources, including other research grants.

“Full disclosure is essential not only in validating scientific research, but also in the intense competition for scientific funding from the federal government,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement. “NIH’s application process is intended to yield information that is critical to the agency’s responsible stewardship of billions of taxpayer dollars. My office will continue to use every available tool to preserve the integrity of that process. The research community should recognize that these cases are not going away.”

Roughly one month after VARI paid the $5.5 million settlement in December 2019, U.S. Customers and Border Protection allegedly stopped a former VARI researcher at Detroit Metro Airport with “undeclared biological research samples in his luggage,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The research samples were allegedly intended for the laboratory of a VARI professor. 

The incident prompted another investigation into VARI that resulted in three allegations involving undisclosed foreign connections to federal research.

VARI said in a statement today that the “incomplete disclosures” involved with the new settlement are “related to one professor’s activities in 2018.” VARI noted that the professor has resigned.

VARI officials also noted that the research institute entered into a Corrective Action Plan with the NIH prior to today’s settlement.

“At the Institute, we recognize the importance of the transparency and detailed reporting required of federal research funding recipients,” VARI Chief Operations Officer Jana Hall said in a statement. “We have greatly enhanced our compliance environment since 2019 and will continue to do so. VARI scientists contribute some of the most important research in the world, and the Institute is making progress toward improving human health every day. Federal funding supports innovative biomedical research that improves our fundamental understanding of the natural world and has the potential to change how diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s are understood and treated. We are fully committed to serving as excellent stewards of the funding that supports this research.”

The settlement is in response to allegations in the case and is not a determination of liability.

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