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Monday, Aug. 13, 2012
Evil that comes with research funds
The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on July 31 arrested Mr. Gozo Tsujimoto, a former professor at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Science, for allegedly taking bribes worth some ¥6.2 million from Med Shirotori, a Tokyo-based medical equipment sales firm, from 2007 to 2011, in exchange for helping the firm sell equipment to the university. The firm won at least five contracts worth at least ¥246 million between 2007 and 2011, including one for a genome analyzer.
Mr. Tsujimoto, a leading researcher in developing new drugs from genomic information — a field the government highly values — resigned from the university June 28 after the university was searched. His arrest should serve as a strong warning to scientists getting research funds from the outside, including the central and local governments and private firms. They must bear in mind that high ethical standards are required of them.
They should at least familiarize themselves with the ethical code for scientific researchers compiled by the Science Council of Japan. It is also necessary for organizations that either provide or receive research funds to work out concrete ways to prevent unethical use of research funds by scientists and to make transparent their ties with equipment suppliers and other research-related entities.
Discoveries of illegal use of research funds by researchers were not unusual in the past, but the police or the prosecution refrained from launching criminal investigations. In most cases, institutions concerned carried out internal probes, which led to the resignation of the scientists involved from their posts or to their paying back research funds.
In comparison with past cases, the arrest of Mr. Tsujimoto is a grave development.
Mr. Tsujimoto distinguished himself in the field of developing new drugs through the use of genomic information. He became a member of the project team led by Dr. Koichi Tanaka, a Shimadzu Corp. fellow and a winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in chemistry. The team is to receive some ¥4 billion by fiscal 2013 from the government's Funding Program for World-Leading Innovative R&D on Science and Technology.
When Kyoto University's Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Science established the World-Leading Drug Discovery Research Center in April 2010, Mr. Tsujimoto became director.
Kyoto University as well as other universities and research institutes should reflect upon whether they have a tendency to value scientists who are good at getting large research grants from outside organizations over those scientists who do research steadfastly with smaller funding amounts.
Providers of research funds should carefully assess the amount of funds needed for a particular research project and avoid giving more funds than are actually needed.
Staff to supervise the use of research funds and researchers' behavior should be strengthened. At the very least, Kyoto University and the education ministry should carry out thorough probes to determine how Mr. Tsujimoto's actions became problematic.