Indian American Cancer Scientist Suspended After Allegations of Inappropriate Conduct

Inder Verma who works in the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California has been put on administrative leave on April 20.


An Indian American said to be one of the world’s leading authorities on gene therapy and cancer, Inder Verma has been put on administrative leave on April 20 after allegations of “inappropriate conduct” against him came to light, PTI reported.

The move against the 70-year-old scientist, who was working in Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, was announced via email by the Institute board of trustees’ chair Dan Lewis. He sent the email to Salk employees on April 21 and the email was obtained by the Science Magazine. The case will go on trial next December. In Salk, Verma is a professor in the laboratory of genetics.

The institute has so far, not commented on Verma’s suspension and hired The Rose Group, a San Diego-based international employment law and consulting firm, to look into the matter that was reported to the institute in February. The Rose Group started its probe into the matter in March, as per the report.

“Recently, the institute became aware of allegations concerning Inder Verma. Consistent with Salk’s policies governing workplace conduct, the institute has undertaken a formal investigation that is being led by an independent outside party,” Lewis said in a statement, reported the Science Magazine.

He added that the Board of Trustees met to determine an appropriate course of action for Verma. “Effective immediately, Dr. Verma has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation. He will not be performing scientific or administrative roles on behalf of the institute during this period,” Lewis was quoted as saying by the magazine.

Verma, who has been with Salk since 1974, has denied the allegations. In a statement to the Science magazine through his attorney, he said, “I have never used my position at the Salk Institute to take advantage of others. I have also never engaged in any sort of intimate relationship with anyone affiliated with the Salk Institute.”

This action against Verma, who is also on the boards of several Indian scientific institutes, has come four months after that the National Academy of Sciences asked Verma to step aside as editor-in-chief of its over-a century-old journal–Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), until the charges against him are cleared. It was previously edited by people who have won, or were in line to win the Nobel Prize,

The allegations of inappropriate conduct saw public light through the Science magazine. According to the magazine report, last summer, three female Salk senior scientists filed a suit against the institute for gender discrimination, calling it an “old boys club” that had systematically impeded their careers because they were women. In the lawsuit, Verma was directly criticized for making it difficult for women to succeed, The Scientist reported.

Verma, who earned his MSc in Biochemistry from the Lucknow University, said that the leave had stemmed from the lawsuits that Salk scientists filed in July last year, reported the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I believe that it is inappropriate for an individual in a position of authority to engage in any intimate relationship with a direct report or to use that position of authority to take advantage of others.” he was quoted as saying in the report.

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