UMKC settles lawsuit with professor accused of stealing research, receives $6.45M

Ashim Mitra, pictured above, is a former UMKC professor who has been the focus of a two-year legal battle with the university. (KC Star)

Connor Stewart

UMKC settled a nearly two-year lawsuit with former School of Pharmacy professor Ashim Mitra after it accused the professor of stealing research from a student and selling it to a pharmaceutical company. 

In a suit filed in February 2019, the university alleged that Mitra sold research for a new eye drop solution to a drug development company Sun Pharma. The lawsuit alleged the professor did so without informing the university administrators or the student who invented key parts of the solution. 

Mitra received $1.5 million for the sale, with the potential to earn another $10 million.

UMKC claimed the sales, proceeds and any royalties belonged to the school, since the drug was developed with the help of a graduate research assistant employed by the university. 

The dry eye drug, named Cequa, was a solution that involved the use of nanotechnology which the university said “could be a billion-dollar product.”

Kishore Cholkar, the graduate research assistant who invented key parts of the solution, worked with Mitra for many years. Speaking with The Kansas City Star, Cholkar said he felt betrayed because of Mitra’s actions. 

Cholkar described working many long hours to develop the drug, only to not have his name credited. He said he “was cheated” while Mitra remained adamant that the research was his.

In addition to the lawsuit from the university, Mitra has also faced other allegations from his tenure at UMKC.

In a story first reported by The Star, students coming to study at UMKC from India accused Mitra of using them as his personal servants, stating that Mitra had asked them to do menial tasks around his house. This included work such as watering plants and serving guests at social events.

In one instance, the students alleged they were made to clean out dirty, smelly water after Mitra’s basement flooded.

The students went through with Mitra’s demands out of fear that he would take away their visas should they refuse. Cholkar never performed any of the tasks but told The Star he did witness it.

One professor at UMKC, Mridul Mukherji, reported the actions of Mitra in the past, but little was done. In 2016 and 2018, Professor Mukherji filed two employee discrimination lawsuits against the University of Missouri Board of Curators, Graduate School Dean Denis Medeiros, School of Pharmacy Dean Russell Melchert and Mitra himself.

Mukherji accused those listed of not taking the reports of Mitra’s actions seriously and “retaliating” when he brought forth the claims. However, in August 2019, Mukherji reached a $360,000 settlement with UMKC.

All these claims eventually led to Mitra’s resignation in early 2019. Terms included in his resignation stated that he was not allowed on campus and could not make contact with any of his former students unless authorized.

In a 2019 statement, university spokesperson John Martellaro, said that the college remains committed to hold those that perform wrongdoings accountable.

“UMKC remains committed to a culture of accountability, with student success and student welfare as the university’s top priority,” Martellaro said.

After the nearly two-year legal battle between Mitra, Cholkar and UMKC officials, a settlement was reached between all parties according to a University of Missouri System release.

“The university has dismissed all of its claims against all of the parties in the lawsuit with prejudice,” the release said. “The university has resolved the claims regarding its interest in Mitra’s interest in the patents confidentially and to its satisfaction.” 

Cholkar will reportedly receive $1.4 million of the university’s $6.45 million for his work on the dry-eye treatment. 

Any other terms of the settlement were agreed by the parties involved to not be disclosed.

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