Category Archives: Healthcare

Houston Doctor pleads guilty to receipt of kickbacks

Dr. Ghyasuddin Syed has pleaded guilty to receiving $475,992 in kickbacks from the owner of a Houston toxicology laboratory. Dr. Syed operates a pain management clinic in Baytown.

Uday Shah, who owned and operated several labs, originally pleaded guilty in October 2019.  He was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment. Timothy Andrews of Deer Park, who worked as a marketer for Mr Shah, pleaded guilty in June 2019. He got 15 months.

The scheme ran from November 2014 through August 2017. Mr Shah paid kickbacks to Dr Syed, though the payments were disguised as rent payments from Mr Shah to entities controlled by Dr. Syed or his wife, Shazana Begum. In return, Dr. Syed referred urine drug testing to Shah’s labs, including Pinnacle Laboratories in Lexington, Kentucky.  Medicare paid the labs $325,739 to which they were not entitled.

Dr. Syed is scheduled to be sentenced in March 2021 in the Eastern District of Kentucky.  He faces up to five years in prison for the conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute, and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Dr. Syed’s wife, Shazana Begum, has entered into a pretrial diversion agreement wherein she admitted her role in the offense. She agreed to be under the supervision of the United States Probation Office for 12 months, to pay restitution of $325,739 along with Shah and Andrews, and to perform community service.

It appears that the case was first brought to the attention of authorities by a lawsuit filed in 2015 by an employee at the laboratory in Kentucky. However, the lawsuit remained sealed until September 2019.

Medical device start-up appoints new CEO

Soliton has appointed Brad Hauser as its new CEO, replacing Dr Chris Capelli, who becomes Chief Science Officer. The company is a medical device start-up that has its head office near Bellaire.

The company uses technology licensed from MD Anderson Cancer Center. Its main device uses rapid pulses of designed acoustic shockwaves to disrupt cellular and subcellular structures. The company believes that the technology can be used for tattoo removal, cellulite reduction and fibrotic scar treatment. As yet, the company has not recorded any revenue.

The company went public in February 2019, raising $11 million at $5 per share.  It subsequently raised another $35 million in June at $8.30 per share.  The current share price is $7.12.

Mr Hauser has been a non-executive director of the company since June 2018. His day job was the Vice President, R&D and General Manager for CoolSculpting, a technology that reduces fat by non-surgical methods. CoolSculpting was developed  by Zeltiq Aesthetics, which was acquired by Allergan for $2.4 billion in 2017.

Mr Hauser will receive a base salary of $475,000. He will also receive a restricted stock grant of 200,000 shares that will vest over four years.

Dr Capelli will maintain his current salary of $450,000 in his new role.

SEC filing – Soliton CEO


US Physical Therapy hires new CFO

US Physical Therapy has appointed Carey Hendrickson as its new CFO. He replaces Larry McAfee, who is retiring.

The company operates 551 outpatient physical therapy clinics in 39 states as well as managing 32 physical therapy facilities for third parties. It also has a industrial injury prevention division. The company has its head office in west Houston and has a market capitalization of $1 billion.

In March and April, many of its clinics were closed. At the lowest point in mid-April, visits were about 45% of pre-pandemic levels. By August, they were at 85%, The company cut costs aggressively through salary reductions, furloughs and rent deferrals. It increased its EBITDA in Q2 over Q1, despite revenues being down nearly 30%.

Mr Hendrickson joins from Capital Senior Living Corporation, a publicly-traded company based in Dallas (market cap $20 million), where he was CFO. Prior to joining them in 2014, he was the CFO at Belo Corp, the operator of television stations. Mr Hendrickson will receive a base salary of $450,000. He also received a grant of stock worth $400,000 that will vest over four years.

Mr McAfee has been CFO since joining the company in 2003. He originally announced his intention to retire back in January 2020 but later deferred the intended retirement date because of the pandemic. He will stay on until the Annual Meeting in December, at which point he will resign from the Board. Mr McAfee will then enter into a six month consulting agreement where he will be paid an hourly rate, on an as-needed basis.

SEC filing – US Physical Therapy new CFO

Pain doctor pays to settle allegations of deceptive Medicare billing

Dr Syed Nasir has paid $530,000 to settle allegations that he falsely billed Medicare for the use of electro-acupuncture devices.

From March 2019 to October 2019, Dr Nasir billed Medicare for the implantation of neurostimulator electrodes. This is a surgical procedure that usually requires the use of an operating room.

However, Dr Nasir did not perform these surgeries. Instead, he applied a device used for electro-acupuncture. This procedure involves inserting needles into patients’ ears with the neurostimulator taped behind them with an adhesive. Medicare does not reimburse for electro-acupuncture devices as implantable neurostimulators.

Dr Nasir runs Skilled Pain Care Clinic, which is on the 610 loop on the NW side of Houston.

In June, Dr Jaime Robledo of Katy paid $100,000 to resolve similar allegations.

Trading on Houston biopharma companies halted over COVID-19 claims

[UPDATE 5-28-2020: After both companies issued similar press releases on May 27, laying out more specifically the timeline for the drug to get approval, trading in both companies has resumed on 28 May].

The Nasdaq has halted trading on CNS Pharmaceuticals and Moleculin Biotech pending further information from the companies related to a drug candidate for the coronavirus illness COVID-19.

Moleculin Biotech is based in the Rice Military area of Houston and went public in June 2016. CNS is based in the Galleria and completed its IPO in November 2019.

The Securities and Exchange commission temporarily halted trading on May 5 of the two companies.  That temporary halt was due to expire on May 15, until the Nasdaq stepped in. The SEC also halted trading of Vancouver-based WPD Pharmaceuticals, which is traded on the Canadian Stock Exchange. However, WPD will resume trading on the CSE.

University of Frankfurt research

The saga began on March 11 when independent researchers at the University of Frankfurt posted a paper on a website, for peer review. The research found that 2-deoxy-D-glucose (“2-DG”) was able to reduce replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by 100% in in vitro testing.

Three companies linked by common shareholder

On March 23, 2020 CNS announced that it had entered into an agreement with WPD for the development of several preclinical drug candidates, including WP1122. The founder and largest shareholder of CNS, Dr Waldemar Priebe, is also the founder and largest shareholder of WPD too.

WPD had previously licensed rights to a portfolio of drug candidates, including WP1122, from Moleculin Biotech for certain regions. Dr Priebe is one of the largest shareholders of Moleculin. He is also the chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of that company.

By day, Dr Priebe is also the Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, Department of Experimental Therapeutics at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

CNS states that WP1122 is a biologically inactive compound that can be metabolized in the body, to produce a form of 2-DG. The March 23 press release stated that WP1122 was being tested for a range of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

On April 8, Moleculin issued a press release touting the Frankfurt research. CNS issued its version of the press release on April 13.

Market capitalization rockets

Prior to the March 23 announcement, CNS had a market cap of $24 million. After the April 13 press release, it was $60 million. Likewise for Moleculin Biotech, the market cap rocketed from $24 million to $89 million.

The SEC is concerned that CNS and certain unnamed third parties may have overstated the status of development of WP1122, the status of testing the drug’s impact on COVID-19 and the ability to expedite regulatory approval of any such treatment.

Missouri City Physician to pay $450,000 to resolve fraud allegations

Dr Maaz Abbasi has agreed to pay $450,000 to resolve allegations that he falsely signed home help certifications and plans of care in exchange for money. He also agreed to a three-year exclusion from participation in any federal healthcare program.

Dr Abbasi was connected with Egondu ‘Kate’ Koko. In May 2019, she was sentenced to over 15 years in prison for her role in a $20 million medicare fraud. She owned a number of home health agencies. She admitted to paying illegal kickbacks and bribes to physicians and patients for paperwork necessary for the agencies to bill Medicare.

From 2015 to 2018, Abbasi certified patients for home health services without any knowledge of their medical condition or homebound status. One of the companies owned by Ms Koko paid Abbasi approximately $6,200 in exchange for signing these fraudulent Medicare home health certifications and plans of care. Abbasi also fraudulently signed a fellow physician’s name on these certifications and plans of care without that physician’s authorization, permission or knowledge.

The agreement resolves the allegations without a determination of liability.

Houston biotech start-up files for IPO

Kiromic Biopharma has filed for an Initial Public Offering (IPO). It plans to raise $20 million. The company is based in the Medical Center district. It was formed in 2006, though it had minimal operations until 2012.

The company is developing immunotherapies for blood cancers and solid tumors. It will use artificial intelligence and its proprietary neural network platform to identify new surface tumor targets. These targets can then be used to create therapies such as antibody therapies, T cell therapies and vaccine therapies. The company has three early-stage product candidates.

The CEO is Maurizio Chiriva Internati. He has been in that role since February 2018, though he joined the company in 2012. He has been an Associate Professor at MD Andersen Cancer Center since August 2019.

Tony Tontat is the CFO and COO. He joined the company, initially as a consultant, in April 2018. He has helped raise funds for biotech public companies such as Sorrento Therapeutics and NantKwest.

The company plans to list on the NYSE American under the symbol ‘KRBP’. No pricing terms were disclosed.

SEC filing – Kiromic Biopharma S-1



Texas City man admits to $5 million health care fraud

Ravinder Syal, 57, of Texas City, has admitted to a nearly $5 million fraud in a Corpus Christi federal court.

Between February 2018 and March 2020, he acquired several physician practices in Harris County, Galveston County and Corpus Christi. He handled the administrative functions of the practices including staffing and billing. In each case, he switched the practices to electronic billing and hired an outside billing service, located in India, to handle patient billing.

The Defendant conspired with the outside billing firm to fraudulently bill Medicare, Medicaid, and several private health insurers. He billed for tests and services that were not rendered by a physician or performed during a patient visit.

Syal acted without the knowledge or assistance of the physicians. According to the charge sheet, this included his wife, who is a pediatrician!

He fraudulently billed services amounting to almost $4.9 million. Syal was paid $553,069 as a result of these claims.

Sentencing has been set for August 10. At that time, Syal faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.


Biopharma CEO leaves after 3 months

A big shake-up at Aravive results in CEO Rekha Hemrajani leaving the company, along with Chairman and former CEO Jay Shepard. Two other directors are also leaving the Board.

Investor and Pharma veteran Fredric Eshelman has bought $5 million of shares (just over 5%) in the company and installed himself as Non-Exec Chairman.

Aravive is a clinical stage biotechnology company, focusing on developing therapies for solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. It has its head office in downtown Houston. It went public in October 2018 via a reverse takeover.

Ms Hemrajani only joined the company in January 2020. She worked out of the company’s Palo Alto office. She came from Arcus Biosciences where she had been COO and CFO. Ms Hemrajani will receive a severance payment ($237,500) equivalent to six months salary as well as the accelerated vesting of 35,750 shares (worth about $250,000).

Dr Gail McIntrye has been promoted from Chief Scientific Officer to CEO. She has worked with the new chairman at two previous companies.

SEC filing – Aravive CEO

CFO postpones retirement at health services company

Back in January, Larry McAfee, CFO of US Physical Therapy, announced he would retire in October 2020. He turned 65 in January. Due to the current business environment, the company has now disclosed that Mr McAfee will postpone his retirement to a later date.

The company had begun a search for his successor, but that has now been put on hold.

The company operates 583 outpatient physical therapy clinics in 40 states. It also manages 26 physical therapy practices for unrelated physician groups and hospitals. The company (market cap $824 million) has its corporate office in west Houston.

The company has been adversely impacted by COVID-19. Many of its clinics have had to close due to ‘stay in place’ restrictions. Even those that remain open have seen a significant drop in patient volume. The company is taking steps to mitigate losses, including cutting salaries for senior executives.

SEC filing – US Physical Therapy – McAfee delayed retirement