Biotech co-founder arrested on murder-for-hire charges

U.S. officials have arrested Enochian BioSciences co-founder Serhat Gümrükcü. The researcher is charged with conspiring to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire which resulted in a death.

Enochian is developing gene-modified cellular and immune therapies for infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis B and coronavirus as well as cancer. Gümrükcü developed many of the techniques used to create the candidates, and Enochian relied on his services, according to a financial filing made by the company last year. The researcher filed the pre-IND request for Enochian’s HIV cell therapy.

On Wednesday, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont revealed the arrests of Gümrükcü and another individual. The two were charged by a federal grand jury in Vermont with conspiring to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

The case dates back to 2018. According to court records, Gregory Davis was kidnapped from his home on Jan. 6, 2018. The next day, Davis was found dead in a snowbank several miles from his home in Vermont. The government previously arrested an individual over the kidnapping of Davis, and another person on charges of conspiring to kidnap Davis.

At this stage, it is unclear exactly what role Gümrükcü and the other newly arrested person are alleged to have played in the conspiracy. The indictment charging the pair only contains accusations, and they are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. If convicted, the two face mandatory life in prison or the death penalty.  

Enochian issued a statement after seeing the “unexpected and shocking press release” about the arrest of Gümrükcü. The board reviewed the available information and “concluded without reservation that there is no link between the criminal charges and any actions of the company.” Enochian’s CEO Mark Dybul sought to distance the company from Gümrükcü.

“The profound potential of the scientific ideas, and the promising preclinical and in certain cases clinical data have not changed,” Dybul said. “The personal life of the inventor and co-founder does not alter those fundamental facts. Indeed, there has never been a formal role for Dr. Gümrükcü in the company and his remaining informal role as a scientific advisor has concluded.”

Enochian previously viewed Gümrükcü’s informal role as important enough to list its “dependence on the services of experts, including Dr. Serhat Gümrükcü” in the forward-looking statement section of its 10-K disclosure to investors. The company also named Gümrükcü in a section on the drug development risks of its dependence on third parties. Enochian paid $600,000 in a licensing deal with Gümrükcü last year. 

Shares in Enochian fell 37% to $3.70 when news of the arrest broke.