Inside the fierce and messy fight for ‘sane’ sugar tech

Tagatose, a “rare sugar”, is almost as sweet as table sugar but contains about half the calories.

PUBCHEM

Prior to this email, Rogers had proposed splitting the CFB, leaving Zhang with his sci-fi bio-battery and sugar-to-hydrogen concepts, while Rogers would bring the rare sugars to market in the nearer term. Zhang rejected the idea and, to no one’s surprise, he did not renew the Rogers CEO’s contract, later citing his “inability to raise a single dollar of investment”. But Rogers, who retained a small stake in the company as part of his compensation, was not ready to walk away. In late December 2015, he sent CFB an email referring to a “glaring” contradiction between statements the company had made in NSF grant applications while he was acting CEO and statements made by Zhang.

As an example, Rogers pointed out that although Zhang told him that the rights to the sugar phosphate production process were Chinese, a request indicated that CFB owned the rights and would market the process in the United States. “If there’s a problem,” Rogers warned, “I can’t look away. Of course, any whiff of grant fraud will scare licensees and potential investors away.”

In the email, Rogers reiterated his suggestion that CFB transfer the rights to tagatose and another rare sugar called arabinose, as well as the rights to the sugar phosphates process, to a new startup he had planned. intention to train. But he wanted to go fast, ideally within a week. “If you need more time let me know, but time is running out in many ways,” he wrote.

Zhang again refused to split the company, and on January 6, 2016, time expired. Rogers incorporated Bonumose in the state of Virginia, and nine days later sent an email to the NSF Office of Inspector General titled “Report of Possible NSF Grant Fraud”.

He cited seemingly damning emails between Zhang and Rogers. In one, sent in the summer of 2015, Zhang writes: “About the sugar phosphate project, the experiments were carried out by one of my collaborators and my satellite lab in China. Technology transfer will only take place in China. If this project is funded by [the NSF], most of the money will be used to fund the other project at CFB. This meant the promising research on tagatose, which had not yet received any official funding from the NSF.

Another, regarding a second NSF inositol proposal, took a similar approach: “Almost all of the experiments… are complete. Chun you [CFB’s chief scientist] and I filed a Chinese patent on our behalf, nothing to do with CFB… If it’s funded, most of the [the NSF money] will be used by CFB to support other projects.

The use of public funds for purposes other than those for which they were granted is strictly and explicitly prohibited. Within weeks, the NSF had begun its investigation and suspended all payments to BFC.

Rachel J. Bradford