Main gate of the Academia Sinica in Taipei.

Main gate of the Academia Sinica in Taipei.

KaurJmeb/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Head of Taiwan's Academia Sinica resigns

The head of Academia Sinica, Taiwan's collection of national laboratories, stepped down yesterday under pressure for alleged insider stock trading and a conflict of interest.

Wong Chi-Huey, a biochemist, had been president of Academia Sinica since 2006 and was close to completing his second 5-year term of office. The controversy centers on the Taiwanese startup pharmaceutical company OBI Pharma, which had developed a treatment for breast cancer. On 21 February, the company announced that the treatment had shown mixed results in a clinical trial, falling short of its primary goal of progression-free survival but showing some benefit for certain patients. The stock price immediately slumped. Wong was later quoted in Taiwanese media as saying the company still had promise.

Soon afterward, Taiwanese news outlets started reporting allegations that Wong's daughter had bought shares in the company in 2012, a year before it was publicly listed, but had then sold some of those shares shortly before the 21 February announcement. When the scandal broke, Wong was in the United States on business. On 31 March he tendered his resignation to Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who rejected it.

In an open letter released 15 April by Academia Sinica, Wong denied wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with all investigations. He also apologized for the controversy. Nevertheless, there were mounting calls from politicians for him to step down. Yesterday, in a simple statement on his website, President Ma announced that he was accepting Wong's resignation.

A native of Taiwan, Wong earned his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and held positions at Texas A&M University, College Station; the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California; and RIKEN in Wako, Japan, before joining Academia Sinica in 2003. His term as president was due to end in October. A search committee has narrowed the list of candidates to three. The final selection is up to the president of Taiwan, who himself will be succeeded on 20 May when President-Elect Tsai Ing-wen is inaugurated.

It is not clear whether Ma or incoming president Tsai will make the selection, or if the next president of Academia Sinica might take office early. In the meantime, historian Wang Fan-sen will be acting head.