Primate center locked in legal battle with UCLA

According to an article in the Winston-Salem Journal on Feb. 22, Wake Forest University Health Sciences (WFUHS) is willing to shut down the $2 million primate center located in Forsyth County if the Regents of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) do not pay half of the operating costs.

Graphic by Elizabeth Ropp/Old Gold & Black

The Vervet Research Colony (VRC), founded in 1975, was originally located at the Department of Veterans Affairs Sepulveda Campus in California. The Vervet Research Colony is currently comprised of 475, vervet monkeys also called African Green Monkeys. These vervets are used in studies related to growth, development, temperament, aging and chronic disease risk.

The vervets were originally captured from St. Kitt’s, West Indies where their bloodlines have been studied for three to eight generations.

WFUHS and UCLA entered into a cooperative agreement on Feb. 22, 2007, which transferred the UCLA VRC to a new facility that WFUHS built and paid for.

WFUHS filed a lawsuit on Dec. 7, 2012, suing UCLA for sole legal title to the VRC and damages of $10,000 because UCLA breached their agreement, declining to accept full ownership of the colony after failing to pay for half of the deficits at the end of the fiscal year as agreed upon. When the VRC was relocated to the Primate Center in Forsyth County, UCLA transferred its legal rights and title to the VRC to WFUHS. UCLA still had free access to the VRC for research purposes.

The goals of the agreement were “preserving and developing the VRC as a shared resource for biomedical research,” the WFUHS lawsuit said.

In order to aid in the maintenance and operation of the VRC, UCLA agreed to pay $200,000 per year for five years. Any remaining deficit at the end of a fiscal year would be equally split between WFUHS and UCLA.

WFUHS and UCLA believed more grants and revenue would eventually be acquired that would cover the reduction after UCLA’s contribution requirement expired.

According to WFUHS’s lawsuit, WFUHS ran into  financial issues when the colony grew, the annual payment from UCLA expired and they did not receive the amount of grants and funds expected.

According to the lawsuit, “UCLA has continuously and unreasonably objected to using the population of the VRC in various research studies that would have generated additional revenue without degrading the research value of the animals.”

Edward Abraham, M.D., professor and Dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, notified Peter Whybrow, M.D., director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and executive chair of the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA of the financial issues regarding the VRC on March 9, 2012.

However according to UCLA’s lawsuit,  Abraham did not address the situation properly. “This letter … was not addressed to the Vice Chancellor of Research at UCLA as required to constitute notice under the Agreement,” the law suit said. Abraham proposed a restructuring of the parties’ relationship to address these financial issues.

After months of discussion, no conclusion was met and WFUHS formally offered to transfer the title of the VRC to UCLA on July 10, 2012.

According to the WFUHS lawsuit, UCLA never responded to the offer or to the new “statement of principles” and the group took this as a breach in agreement.

On Sept. 20, 2012, WFUHS sent UCLA an invoice for $330,287 for their half of the VRC budget deficit, which UCLA never paid. WFUHS considered the cooperative agreement terminated while UCLA considered it to be in full effect.

According the UCLA counter lawsuit, WFUHS ended the cooperative agreement without cause, which is in violation of the cooperative agreement. UCLA filed a counter lawsuit Feb. 15, requesting damages of $75,000 caused by WFUHS, a cover of all legal fees and an order “enjoining Wake Forest from any further unilateral disposition of vervets in the VRC” and “an order declaring that the Agreement was terminated by the material breach by Wake Forest.”

UCLA also requested that WFUHS have no ownership in the VRC and must transfer the ownership of the colony at no cost to UCLA. WFUHS’s initial lawsuit was filed in state court. UCLA then remanded it to federal court with their counterclaim. WFUHS is now attempting to get the lawsuit back in North Carolina state court.

Paula Faria, assistant vice president of Media Relations for WakeMed, stated in an email, “The lawsuit that Wake Forest University Health Sciences filed against the University of California, Los Angeles on Dec. 7, 2012 is a contractual dispute. We hope that it will be resolved in a speedy and favorable fashion. As with any ongoing litigation, we cannot comment further pending its resolution.”

 

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