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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Updated: Anil Potti out at Coastal Cancer Center; practice blames Duke for glowing recommendations

with 24 comments

Anil Potti, the former Duke oncologist who has now retracted ten papers, is no longer listed as a staff member at the oncology practice that hired him sometime last year.

The development, first reported by Duke Check, follows a 60 Minutes segment last week focused on Potti and Duke. Duke Check also noted that a Myrtle Beach PR firm had promised a statement later today.

We called the oncology practice, who refered us to LHWH Advertising and Public Relations of Myrtle Beach. The PR firm tells us we’ll be getting a statement at about 2 p.m. Eastern, so check back here.

Update, 2:30 p.m. Eastern: Here’s the statement (our comments below):

Coastal Cancer Center Of Myrtle Beach Ends Relationship With Dr. Anil Potti
Letters Of Recommendation From Duke Were Key Factors In Original Hiring Decision

February 21, 2012, Myrtle Beach, S.C. – Dr. Anil Potti, MD is no longer associated with Coastal Cancer Center of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Dr. Potti, who saw patients primarily at Coastal Cancer Center’s Loris, S.C. and Brunswick County, N.C. facilities, served his final day on Feb. 21st. Potti originally joined Coastal Cancer Center as an oncologist in March 2011.

“A recent 60 Minutes story concerning an investigation of Duke University’s cancer research programs and Dr. Potti’s work there prompted many concerned people to contact Coastal Cancer Center with comments and questions,” said Lawrence B. Holt, Jr., MD, FACP, President of Coastal Cancer Center. “It has become obvious that this issue is going to take precious focus away from patient care. Coastal Cancer Center is staffed by incredibly caring people who want and need to concentrate on providing outstanding patient care.”

Coastal Cancer Center conducted a deep and thorough investigation of Potti’s credentials before hiring him. Potti received numerous letters of strong recommendation from key members of the medical community at Duke University where Potti had worked before coming to the Grand Strand.

“We received glowing references about Dr. Potti’s character and skills from the highest ranks of the Duke University School of Medicine and Duke University Medical Center,” said Holt. “We were assured by Duke Medical’s leaders that Anil was ‘outstanding in all categories,’ ‘had excellent clinical skills’ and that he had conducted himself at Duke with ‘honesty, integrity and humility.’ One Duke University director even went so far as to say he would be pleased to have Dr. Potti as the treating physician ‘if my own family had unfortunately contracted a cancer.’ Letters of recommendation came in from the chief of Duke Medical’s Division of Medical Oncology, the Chair of the Department of Medicine, the Director of Hematologic Malignancies Program, and several professors. Letters of recommendation came in from the chief of Duke Medical’s Division of Medical Oncology, the Director of Hematologic Malignancies Program, and several professors.

“During the time that Dr. Potti has been with us,” continued Holt, “he has been an exemplary physician whose caring ways have made him extremely popular with patients. We will miss him.”

During his time on staff at Coastal Cancer Center, Dr. Potti became an active part of the Grand Strand medical community, many of whom have reached out to him in the days since the 60 Minutes story aired.

“We have been touched and heartened by the outpouring of support for Anil that has come from the local medical community,” says Holt. “Like those of us at the Cancer Center, other physicians recognize him as an exceptional doctor and colleague.”

Dr. Holt and other Coastal Cancer Center physicians will personally assume the care of of Dr. Potti’s patients.

More information about Coastal Cancer Center is available online at http://coastalcancercenter.com.

Like many aspects of the Potti case, this statement is mind-boggling. The attempt to pin the blame on others — in this case, singling out a Duke official who, the release neglects to mention, has expressed regret at recommending Potti so highly — is par for the course in the whole Potti affair. This, of course, while claiming to have conducted a “deep and thorough investigation of Potti’s credentials.”

Really? Someone should make sure the Coastal Cancer Center has a subscription to The Cancer Letter. Wouldn’t hurt if they kept up with Retraction Watch, either.

Update, 4:30 Eastern, 2/28/12: We received this by email earlier this afternoon:

NEWS RELEASE CORRECTION RE DR. ANIL POTTI

February 28, 2012, Myrtle Beach, S.C. - This Media Advisory is to correct an error reported in a press release entitled “Coastal Cancer Center Of Myrtle Beach Ends Relationship With Dr. Anil Potti” that you received on February 22.

In a sentence regarding letters of recommendation received from various Duke University personnel, it was incorrectly stated that a letter was received from the Chair of the Department of Medicine.

In fact, the recommendation letter was sent to the Chair of the Department of Medicine from an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center.

That press release should have read:

“Letters of recommendation came in from the chief of Duke Medical’s Division of Medical Oncology, the Director of Hematologic Malignancies Program, and several professors.”

We apologize for the error.

We’ve made the corrections above using a strikethrough. The confession comes several days after the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners admitted they erred in listing Potti’s medical license as “suspended” for a few hours last week.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

February 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm

24 Responses

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  1. Nicely written, Ivan Oransky. I’ve provided links to this Retraction Watch article at the websites of some of the media outlets disseminating this press release.

    I thought this extract from David Wren’s recent story regarding Anil Potti was informative.

    http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2012/02/18/2668460/coastal-cancer-centers-potti-illustrates.html

    Myrtle Beach Online, News, Sports & Entertainment from the Sun News
    Posted on Sun, Feb. 19, 2012

    Coastal Cancer Center’s Potti illustrates difficulty of screening out-of-state doctors

    By David Wren

    …..Potti has said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the matter. Potti called the fraudulent research at Duke University “a past controversy” in a letter he sent to the S.C. medical board with his license application.

    Potti also hired a firm that specializes in creating positive websites for customers to crowd out negative information that might come up during an Internet search. Potti’s biography on the Coastal Cancer Center website also has no mention of the controversy.

    “It sounds like he has … crossed the line by not giving the whole story,” Jerome Kassirer, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, told Duke University’s student newspaper, The Chronicle. “It seems to me inappropriate and unprofessional.”

    Potti has had other problems in North Carolina in addition to the manipulated research data. He claimed to be a Rhodes Scholar on his resume at Duke University, which university officials later learned was false.

    The N.C. Medical Board reprimanded Potti in December for including multiple inaccuracies about awards he purportedly won and other accomplishments on his resume and Duke University biography. The N.C. board’s website also shows Potti had 11 malpractice claims filed against him between November 2007 and June 2009 and that he is the focus of a medical research misconduct inquiry by Duke University.

    None of that information, however, is available on the S.C. Board of Medical Examiners web site…….

    drgenenelson

    February 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm

  2. “Potti also hired a firm that specializes in creating positive websites for customers to crowd out negative information that might come up during an Internet search.”

    Heh. That explains the existence of anilpotti.com, anilpotti.net, anilpotticv.com and others… But it didn’t work because Retraction Watch is the 3rd Google hit

    Neuroskeptic

    February 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm

  3. Were these people lost at sea for the last year or two? How in the hell did they not know about this guy? You would think it would raise some red flags if some hot-shot Duke faculty member wants to suddenly start working at your little cancer practice. Unbelievable.

    Dave

    February 22, 2012 at 5:45 pm

  4. To those who failed to “deeply and thoroughly” investigate Potti’s credentials: all you have to do is Google the name, in quotes, and the Retraction Watch stuff just pops right up. Even stuff from today. Try it on your own name. I just did and most of the comments I wrote for RW showed up…
    I think I’ll try it on “puzzled monkey” now.
    11 malpractice suits in less than 2 years? Wow. I’d hate to be his insurer’s lawyer. He must have ticked off a lot of patients (as your other dr readers will tell you, getting sued for malpractice depends more on whether you had a good relationship with the patient than on what happened to him/her. We can guess that most of Potti’s patients died, since they had cancer, but still…)
    Finally, he was described as having “humility” but that doesn’t quite fit with his hiring a PR firm to whitewash the allegations of data manipulation.
    In his defense, I do have to say that he’s sorta cute (no, I’m not gay, but I do suffer from astigmatism.)

    • When I used Google with the phrase, “Anil Potti” about 7 hours ago, I noted that web links that are connected with his self-promotion were about 50% of the top 100 links. The coveted top 5 links were connected with his PR effort. While the “Retraction Watch” followers understand what is really going on, do you think that people who are not familiar with the story might be influenced by the PR spin?

      Gene Nelson, Ph.D.

      February 23, 2012 at 12:02 am

      • We don’t know how the google results would have looked like a year ago, but if it had a similar result, it would actually make me very suspicious. I expect the top results to be a homepage at your current employer, a linkedin-profile, a facebook-profile, not various self-promotion sites. One blog perhaps, but not three.

        “Too good to be true”.

        Marco

        February 23, 2012 at 1:11 am

      • Update: At 6:24 AM EST on Thursday 23 February, there were approximately 80,700 results to the Google query “Anil Potti.” Now, Potti is down to only the top 4 links. Here is the 6th link.

        Troubles continue for former Duke oncologist
        Doctor no longer working in Myrtle Beach

        By Schuyler Kropf

        skropf [at] postandcourier dot com

        Thursday, February 23, 2012

        ….In a separate interview, clinic public relations spokesperson Lei Gainer declined to say if Potti was fired or left on his own accord.

        Potti could not be reached. A South Carolina phone number for him is not publicly listed. He had been with the center since March.

        Potti’s story, featured during a Feb. 12 segment of the CBS news show called “Deception at Duke,” was a continuation of the scrutiny that drove the oncologist from the school in 2010.

        In the report, Potti’s cancer investigation claims weren’t only described as a failure, but also possibly “one of the biggest medical research frauds ever.” He also faced accusations of falsifying his resume.

        The segment caused a number of people to contact the Coastal Cancer Center with comments and questions in the show’s aftermath, the statement said.

        “It has become obvious that this issue is going to take precious focus away from patient care,” Lawrence B. Holt Jr., president of Coastal Cancer Center, said.

        Potti’s final day was Tuesday. He joined the staff as an oncologist in March 2011. He primarily saw patients at the center’s Loris and Brunswick County, N.C. locations.

        Potti’s troubles have been chronicled for some time. His downfall at Duke is traced to two events, including a claim to be a Rhodes Scholar, later proven false, among other resume embellishments. A larger investigation centered on the scientific integrity of his cancer-treatment research. It focused on the possibility of physicians using information about a patient’s genetic makeup to help decide the best course of treatment….

        DukeCheck.com promises some interesting updates to this story as well today. http://dukecheck.com/?p=595

        Gene Nelson, Ph.D.

        February 23, 2012 at 6:54 am

  5. There is in Potti’s tale as in so many of the Retraction Watch stories the pale cast by that sin of pride the Greeks called hubris. You don’t (generally) see evil people doing evil things as much as prideful souls overstepping themselves and in so doing self-destructing. What I find interesting is how susceptible the modern researcher is to becoming hubristic. You might some time Ivan think of putting together a movie script not based on the actions of a particular person but rather on the psychological reality that the drive to discover new and unknown truths is itself a manifestation of modern humans’ collective hubris and as such seemingly inevitably leads to the falls you document.

    stephenstrausss

    February 22, 2012 at 7:09 pm

  6. NEVER rely on a single letter of recommendation, especially if the letter is dithyrambic. Ask for 5 letters, or better, no letter at all.

    Sylvain Bernès

    February 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    • “Letters of recommendation came in from the chief of Duke Medical’s Division of Medical Oncology, the Chair of the Department of Medicine, the Director of Hematologic Malignancies Program, and several professors”.

      Seems they had at least 5 letters of recommendation…

      Marco

      February 23, 2012 at 1:12 am

    • Best to not realy on letters of recommendation at all. Fears of legal retribution, combined with nefarious desires to get rid of problem personnel and an honest desires to not hurt anyone’s career, have made the letters useless. Anyone not in on the joke really has no business conducting hires.

      MM

      February 23, 2012 at 8:44 am

  7. I have felt and continue to feel sick while following the misadventures of this miscreant here in Retraction Watch and now elsewhere. Here’s to Retraction Watch and all the others out there, bloggers and whistleblowers, whether known or anonymous! The world needs you more than ever.

    Michieux

    February 23, 2012 at 8:51 am

    • …and don’t forget the wonderful pay and benefits package for being a pro-bono investigator and whistleblower. :-) – Gene

      Gene Nelson, Ph.D.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:21 am

  8. this statement is mind-boggling. The attempt to pin the blame on others … while claiming to have conducted a “deep and thorough investigation of Potti’s credentials.”
    Indeed. Very well put.

    JudyH

    February 23, 2012 at 11:00 am

  9. I am sure the duplicitous letters of recommendation and, a medical license in a neighboring state and a job at a Cancer Practice a within driving distance of Chapel Hill (run by a Duke-associated physician) were all part of a negotiated arrangement for Potti to resign.

    If Potti had decided not to cooperate and insisted on waiting for the final outcome of all of the various misconduct investigations (specifically the NIH/ORI mandated one at Duke that is still ongoing) he would almost certainly still be on paid leave and therefore still associated with Duke while increasing national attention is being paid to the “case”.

    Unfortunately for both Duke and Potti a year later this has all blown up again and this time I don’t see any way that he’s going to be able to continue to practice medicine at least in this country.

    Its been mentioned elsewhere that Potti apparently renaged on a requirement to serve as a physician in his native India that was expected from graduates of his medical school. Ironically, going back to satisfy this expectation may now be his only option.

    if I was over at Dukecheck I would be strenuously trying to find out more about the circumstances and arrangements surrounding Potti’s resignation.

    scotus

    February 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm

  10. @scotus: this is a logical inference, and only slightly paranoid, so I will endorse it. It also infers another side to Potti’s personality which would partially explain how he got his position at Duke in the first place. This would be a scheming or negotiating sort of personality characteristic, I’m not sure what to call it under DSM-IV. Such a personality would be prone to manipulating data, since principles are not valued as much as peer approval.
    Forensic psychiatry at a distance, yes?
    @JudyH: You’d think “deep and thorough” would entail checking more than the top 5 google search results.
    @Sylvain: “dithyrambic” is a great word. Had to look it up, tho the meaning was clear from your context. It means “wildly enthusiastic”, “passionately eloquent”, or “wildly irregular in form.”(Dictionary.com)
    Such enthusiasm makes you wonder, were these people really taken with Potti (is he that charismatic?) or did he make a deal to leave quickly so he could get a nice job (probably paid at least $180K, if not $250K/yr.) instead of having to go back to India in disgrace?

  11. Well, at the Medical School I was in for many years (a very prestigious one), it was quite common for candidates to write their own letters of recommendation that the letter writers would then just sign (or have their secretaries sign for them)….

    Jon Beckmann

    February 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm

  12. @puzzled monkey: I don’t think returning to India to work as an oncologist is exactly a disgrace. Yes, he will always be a cautionary tale. Yes, he will make less money in US dollar equivalents. But his quality of life is likely to be excellent. Specialist doctors in India live quite well. He may even be able to regain some self-respect and do some lasting good, helping his fellow man in his native country. This is hardly a tragic ending. It seems far from the endgame that I have heard others with far more bloodlust than me wish (prison, suicide) upon this obviously troubled gentleman.

    DefendSmallScience!

    February 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    • Yes, I think that is his best option, he’s been punished enough, and he would not suffer if he went to India. Probably they’d consider what has occurred in the US to be unimportant, possibly even feel that he was harassed unfairly. He’d be helping the people of India and reversing the brain drain. A good career choice, if he will take it. I’m afraid that he would personally feel it was a failure though.

      • So, you think somebody can make up stuff that would have negative consequences for patients AND be a great doctor at the same time? I think this guy’s MO is basically to take the easy way out, and he would do that regardless of the context. Perhaps there is just a mismatch between his aspirations and his talent, after all.

        Jon Beckmann

        February 25, 2012 at 6:00 am

  13. The ethics of scientific investigation are a little more difficult to adhere to than the mechanics of medicine; that being said, I didn’t say, that he’d be a GREAT doctor…but he might be a good doctor, if he can learn from his mistakes.
    On the other hand, I had a horrifying thought: what if he started to do research and publish papers in India?


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