Cryptic “legal issues” lead to retraction of paper about potential Novartis alcohol abuse drug
Readers of this blog by now know that if there’s one thing that really gets us going, it’s obfuscation. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the following retraction notice from the journal Psychopharmacology, made us particularly batty:
This paper has been retracted by the author because of legal issues.
The notice refers to “Selective activation of the metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 7 “mGluR7” attenuates acquisition, expression, and reinstatement of ethanol place preference,” was published online in late June by Amine Bahi under the heading “Original Investigation.”
Bahi is in the department of anatomy at United Arab Emirates University. He has also held positions at Yale and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Among his publications is one that involved a collaborator from Novartis (more on that in a moment).
Trevor Robbins, the editor of Psychopharmacology, seemed apologetic enough when he responded to our emailed request for comment. But he didn’t add anything:
This is a confidential matter which the publishers have dealt with, not involving myself.
The publisher in this case is Springer. We emailed the journal rep for Psychopharmacology, who told us she passed our questions along to someone else from the company. We’ll update the post if/when we hear anything, which, we’re told, won’t be until next week.
Meanwhile, we took a moment to compare Bahi’s Psychopharmacology paper and the other article, which appeared in Addiction Biology.
Some interesting similarities, to be sure. Same dosages, same effects, same conclusion, more or less: namely, that one of the compounds tested, AMN082, could be a treatment for alcohol abuse.
From the retracted article, which appears to have been yanked:
More interestingly, the efficacy of AMN082 on the various phases of alcohol CPP [a measure of preference] could represent an interesting pharmacological approach and could open a new line of research for the development of therapies, using AMN082-like compounds, to reduce ethanol intake in patients.
From the prior publication:
In conclusion, these findings support a specific regulatory role for mGluR7 on alcohol drinking and preference and provide evidence for the use of AMN082-type drugs as potential new treatments for alcohol-use disorders in man.
Key difference: Only one author on the first. Oddly, in the Psychopharmacology paper Bahi writes about “our” results — save the royal we jokes for later — despite being a lone author, which ought to have raised red flags at the journal that something was amiss.
Now back to that Novartis connection. The main figure here is Peter Flor, the senior author of the Addiction Biology paper, who with colleagues at the drug maker created AMN082.
It turns out that Flor and Novartis didn’t take too kindly to seeing proprietary work appropriated. (Although Bahi did cite the Addiction Biology paper, because the retracted article doesn’t appear to be available, we can’t tell if he specifically credited Flor et al in the text. If anyone happens to have a copy of the paper, we’d love to know the answer.)
Flor responded tersely to our request for an explanation:
[Bahi] had no permission to submit the paper.
That’s not Bahi’s interpretation, however.
I retracted this paper because I used the AMN082 compound from Novartis. The problem is that this company did not allow legal release of the paper.
Of course I sent the paper with the agreement of my PI (we signed the [material transfer agreement] with Novartis). But because I left his lab with a big conflict of interest he contacted Psychopharmacology claiming that he never allowed submission. Of course I could not prove that as I had no written Email from him allowing submission but got it while discussing data in a lab meeting.
Then together with Springer I decided to retract the paper in order to re-do the experiments with a purchased drug (AMN082 is available in the market) and send it back.
We were curious about the timing of all this: a late-June publication and an early July retraction. Flor told us that the journal “figured out very quickly what was going on.”
We haven’t yet, however. Hopefully Springer can explain next week.