Interim director of Harvard primate center steps down

The interim director of Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center, who was appointed in September after an internal investigation found patterns of problems at the center, announced his resignation in an e-mail sent early this morning.

The news comes in the wake of the disclosure Wednesday that a cotton-top tamarin monkey had died, and that its death was likely linked to the absence of a water bottle in its cage. It was the fourth monkey death at the center in less than two years, and the third death during Dr. Fred Wang’s short tenure as interim director.

UPDATE: Harvard president Drew Faust made her first public remarks about the incidents at the primate center. In a statement released by university officials, she said:

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“I am dismayed by the animals’ deaths. This situation is unacceptable. When I was notified of developments at the primate center over the summer, I found them troubling and fully supported a thorough review of procedures and implementation of reforms. Following the distressing incident last weekend, I have asked for weekly progress reports specifying ongoing assessment of the sources of difficulties, proposed solutions, and timetables for plans of actions. I am grateful for the determined efforts by Harvard Medical School and Dr. Wang to address the situation.”

In a letter e-mailed this morning to the primate center community, Harvard Medical School dean Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier expressed his gratitude to Wang for his contributions over the six-month period—despite the deaths and the US Agriculture Department’s citing of the center for multiple instances of not being in compliance with federal animal welfare laws over that time.

“During his tenure, he [Wang] demonstrated superb leadership, establishing numerous procedures and practices to address issues that he personally identified to strengthen not just animal care, but also administration and management,” Flier wrote. “Equally important, through word and deed, Fred introduced a transformative culture of transparency to the NEPRC. This has resulted in important identification of deficiencies and the creation of critical quality control measures that will serve as the basis for a new operating model for the future.”

In an interview Tuesday, prior to Wang’s announcement of his resignation, Flier said that he had recently returned from a visit to the primate center and met with key leaders there, including Wang. He said the changes being made at the center were correcting problems that had been uncovered through a comprehensive review and gave no indication that Wang would not remain in charge of the center.

In an earlier interview, Harvard Medical School’s executive dean for research, Dr. William Chin, said that recent problems had occurred because it takes time for improvements in training and procedures to take effect. Chin will oversee the center temporarily, but Flier said he expects to announce a successor soon.

UPDATE: In an e-mail statement, Wang said, “I have decided to resign as Interim Director at the New England Primate Research Center for personal and professional reasons, despite the strong requests from Harvard Medical School to continue.”

“It was my honor to serve as Interim Director and to work side-by-side with such hard-working staff who are so deeply committed and caring for the welfare of all the animals. I believe we made great progress in a short period of time and have clearly laid the foundation for the Center to restore its stature as one of the premiere biomedical research centers in the country.”

He will return to running his laboratory full-time at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, starting today.

In his e-mail to center staff, Wang wrote:

Dear NEPRC friends,

I regret to inform you that I have resigned as Interim Director of the Center. I greatly appreciate all the kindness and support you have given me during the last 6 months. I believe we made great progress, and it was my honor to serve as your Director. Thank you for all of your hard work and commitment.

I look forward to seeing you all again soon when I come to the Center for my experiments!

Fred

Below is Flier’s e-mail:

Dear Members of the Primate Center Community:

With regret, I announce that Fred Wang has resigned as interim director of the New England Primate Research Center to return his full attention to his scientific career through his laboratory at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, effective today.

I am enormously grateful to Fred for his invaluable contributions over the past six months. At significant personal and professional sacrifice, he curtailed his highly successful research career to assume interim responsibility for the NEPRC during a challenging period of transition.

During his tenure, he demonstrated superb leadership, establishing numerous procedures and practices to address issues that he personally identified to strengthen not just animal care, but also administration and management. Equally important, through word and deed, Fred introduced a transformative culture of transparency to the NEPRC. This has resulted in important identification of deficiencies and the creation of critical quality control measures that will serve as the basis for a new operating model for the future.

These contributions, his heartfelt commitment to the wellbeing of the primates, and a reputation for personal and institutional integrity will be his legacy. Unquestionably, through his insight and vision, Fred leaves the NEPRC well on the path to be a stronger, more vibrant center than when he arrived.

I expect to announce Fred’s successor shortly. As I finalize our next steps, I am pleased that Bill Chin, executive dean for research, to whom Fred reported, will be overseeing the Center.

It has been a privilege to have someone of Fred’s stature and passion for animal care at the helm of the NEPRC during this important period in its history.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey S. Flier

Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Harvard Medical School