Embattled Sinica president resigns as shares controversy rumbles on

Sinica gate

Several weeks after being released on bail over questions on alleged insider trading, Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey has now stepped down from Taiwan’s most prestigious research post.

Wong issued a public apology last month for his daughter's controversial sale of OBI Pharma shares--saying it was in fact him who dumped the stock just before data from the company's key cancer drug showing it had failed a key trial was made public.

The Academia Sinica president--and a world-renowned chemist who has been touted as a potential future Nobel Prize winner--has been under increasing pressure to explain how his daughter was able to afford 3 million shares of Taiwan’s largest biotech OBI Pharma, priced at NT$31 ($0.95) per share at the time of purchase, and why she sold a number of shares so close to the announcement.

The Taipei-based biotech's lead drug--the breast cancer candidate OBI-822/82--posted disappointing results from a late-stage trial in February, seeing its shares tank.

The company said on Feb. 21 that the candidate did not meet the primary efficacy endpoint in a Phase II/III study, but that it showed improvement in progression-free survival and the secondary endpoint of overall survival "is trending towards statistical significance."

The drug is based on research originally conducted by Wong, and he had in the past endorsed its prospects--something that carries much weight, given that he is the head of Taiwan's most prestigious research institution and therefore can have a major impact on the price of OBI Pharma shares.

Wong had been in the U.S. up until last month, but returned and was held for questioning before being released on bail.

He had tendered his resignation as president when the scandal came to light--but this was denied as he was told to return to Taiwan and explain his actions. However, this week Taiwan’s Presidential Office said it had finally accepted his resignation, which was originally given back on March 29.

President Ma Ying-jeou said in a public letter that he made the decision “to uphold the reputation of Academia Sinica and to meet public expectations.”

In line with past practice, Ma designated one of Academia Sinica's three vice presidents to take Wong's place until the research institution's next president is named.

The president said in the letter that the public and the legislature have been concerned about Wong's alleged involvement in the OBI Pharma case over the past three months.

Wong currently faces possible charges of corruption and breach of trust after being questioned by prosecutors, along with 10 others including the biotech’s founder, Michael Chang. Chang was released on a NT$1 million (US$3,100) bond.

- see the Focus Taiwan story