KANSAS CITY, MO — The University of Missouri system is suing a pharmacy professor at its Kansas City campus over allegations he stole and sold a student’s research, claiming that the school is the rightful owner of the work it believes could be used to make a billion-dollar drug.
The university filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Ashim Mitra improperly made $1.5 million from selling former graduate student Kishore Cholkar’s research, the Kansas City Star reported. Mitra could earn $10 million more in royalties over the next five years, according to the lawsuit.
The university called Cholkar’s work using nanotechnology to deliver drugs to the eye “ground-breaking,” claiming that Mitra defrauded the school out of millions of dollars from the sale. The lawsuit argues that the money belongs to the university because Cholkar developed his research while employed as a graduate research assistant at the Kansas City campus.
Mitra’s wife, Ranjana, is also accused in the lawsuit of being involved in the alleged conspiracy.
Mitra, who announced his resignation from the university last month, denies the accusations.
“All of the alleged wrongdoing on the part of myself and my wife can be proven to be false,” he said.
Cholkar didn’t respond for comment on the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Mitra sold Cholkar’s research to Auven Therapeutics Management, a pharmaceutical development company based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Auven then resold the work for $40 million, plus ongoing royalties, to Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, a company based in India.
Sun Pharmaceutical received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in August to market the patented formulation in a dry-eye drug called Cequa.
The university accused Auven and Sun Pharmaceutical of avoiding contact in order to dodge having to share profits.
Mitra also faced allegations last year that he had coerced graduate students from India into performing personal favors, such as cleaning his basement, walking his dog and watering his plants. Some of the doctoral students told the newspaper that they feared they could lose their visas should Mitra force them out of the university.
Cholkar was among the students interviewed by the Kansas City Star at the time. He said he witnessed the behavior but he wasn’t involved.
He said he felt abused by Mitra in other ways, including not getting recognition for his work on a research project when it went to market.
“That was my product, I worked day and night and yet my name was not included,” Cholkar said last year. “I was the only student who worked on that product. I put all my efforts into that product. I was cheated.”