- Ashim Mitra was also accused of exploiting foreign graduate students, pressurizing them do menial chores at his home.
The University of Missouri system has reached a confidential settlement with an Indian American pharmacy professor whom it accused of stealing and selling student research. In January 2019, the university filed a lawsuit against Ashim Mitra, who worked at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, alleging that he improperly received $1.5 million after he sold former student Kishore Cholkar’s research without permission, with the potential of receiving millions more in royalties.
Besides Mitra and his wife Ranjana, others named as defendants are the companies and their affiliates, as well as the Mitras’ company, Mitra Consulting Services Inc.
As per the lawsuit, Mitra allegedly sold Cholkar’s patented formulation in a dry-eye drug called Cequa to Auven Therapeutics Management, a pharmaceutical development company based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Auven resold the invention to a company in India called Sun Pharmaceutical Industries for $40 million, plus ongoing royalties.
The university had alleged in the lawsuit that the patents for the drug belonged to the school, not professor Mitra or Cholkar. It said the money “rightfully belongs to the university” since the student was employed as a graduate research assistant at the University of Missouri-Kansas City when he developed a new and more effective way to deliver drugs to the eye through nanotechnology.
In a press release, the university said it had resolved its claims regarding “Mitra’s interest in the patents confidentially and to its satisfaction,” and added that “the university has withdrawn and dismissed its claims regarding inventorship and acknowledges the inventors are properly named and that no additional parties should be included as inventors on the patents or patent applications.” The university said that “after further investigation,” it has “withdrawn and dismissed its claims regarding inventorship and acknowledges the inventors are properly named and that no additional parties should be included as inventors on the patents or patent applications.”
Mitra’s attorney, Arthur Chaykin, told American Kahani that he cannot share the details of the settlement, and whether any monetary settlement was involved. He, however, said Mitra is pleased with the settlement and that it reflects the professor’s inventorship.
Mitra resigned as head of the pharmaceutical sciences division at UMKC’s pharmacy school in 2019 January, following allegations that he allegedly exploited foreign graduate students.
The accusations were made by the Kansas City Star newspapers in November 2018. Mitra had been accused of using Indian graduate students as “slave laborers,” pressuring them to perform menial tasks such as taking care of his house and dog, mowing his lawn and bailing filthy water out of his flooded basement. The students, all of them from India, claimed they believed Mitra might strip them of their visas if they did not agree to perform menial tasks at Mitra’s home.
The report quoted Cholkar, who said that while he witnessed the behavior, he was not among those who did such work. However, he told The Star at the time that he felt abused in other ways. He’d worked with Mitra for several years on a research project, he said, but got no credit when the project headed toward market. “That was my product, I worked day and night and yet my name was not included,” Cholkar said. “I was the only student who worked on that product. I put all my efforts into that product. I was cheated.”
The Star also claimed UMKC administration ignored complaints about Mitra for years because of the millions in grant dollars he brought in for the school.
Mitra did not acknowledge any wrongdoing when he resigned. When the patent lawsuit was filed he denied all of the allegations.