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The former director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), who is currently under congressional investigation regarding a 2002 NCI grant to Harvard, said last week that he will step down from his current position as head of the Global Health program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Richard D. Klausner told the Washington Post last week that the move is unrelated to the ongoing probe, which is examining whether Klausner was improperly involved in the decision-making process that eventually awarded the $40 million grant to Harvard researchers—during part of which he was a candidate for the position of University president.
Klausner could not be reached for comment this week. He told the Post that he was leaving the foundation by the end of this year to start a new venture.
After a two-year investigation, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last month asking the GAO to further investigate Klausner’s role in the awarding of the grant. The confidential letter was posted on the website of the Cancer Letter earlier this month.
Loeb Professor of Chemistry Stuart L. Schreiber received the grant in March 2002 to start the Initiative for Chemical Genetics.
When the committee began investigating the grant in 2003, it requested documents from Harvard, including communications between the University and NCI and records of Klausner’s visits to Harvard. The committee also requested records from Harvard’s Presidential Search Committee, which remain sealed for 80 years under University rules. In December 2003, Harvard sent documents to the committee, withholding some search records to maintain confidentiality.
“As far as we know we’ve responded satisfactorily to all the requests the committee has made,” Harvard’s Senior Director of Federal and State Relations Kevin Casey told The Crimson last week.
“We feel secure that Harvard’s role in this is to comply with the procedures of the National Cancer Institute,” he added.
Klausner has said that he recused himself from the NCI consideration of the Harvard bid for a contract.
“I personally had absolutely nothing to do with the decision-making process, and I’m surprised that the committee is questioning whether Harvard can compete in a standard, competitive review process,” Klausner told The Crimson in 2003.
Klausner directed NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, from 1995 to 2001. After leaving NCI, Klausner later served and remains on the board of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, a Boston company co-founded by Schreiber.
Klausner has spent three years at the Gates Foundation in Seattle, which is the world’s biggest foundation with an endowment of about $29 billion.
During his stint as director of the Global Health program, he started Grand Challenges in Global Health, a program which has granted more than $430 million to fund research in the prevention and treatment of disease in developing countries.
Officials at the Gates Foundation could not be reached for comment.
Christopher J. L. Murray ’83, the Director of the Harvard Initiative for Global Health (HIGH), said that Klausner steered the foundation towards a focus on research that would have the “biggest impact in the long run,” such as vaccines for AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Murray recalled that Klausner had given a speech last May at Harvard Medical School, sponsored by HIGH, where he “laid out a vision of where the foundation was heading.”
“There was no suggestion at the time that he would resign,” Murray said of Klausner.
Murray said he did not know the details of the allegations against Klausner, and added that the investigation has “not received much attention in the global health community at all.”
But he said he thought it was unlikely that a director at NCI could have influenced the decision to give a grant to Harvard, due to the peer review process in which non-NCI members of the independent research community evaluate the grant proposals.
“There’s really no way that research that doesn’t meet the standards of the field can be financed,” Murray said.
—Staff writer Tina Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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