Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Pfizer fires employee, requests five retractions

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pfizerPharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced it plans to retract five papers by a former employee, after an investigation found duplicated images.

As first reported today by Leonid Schneider, Pfizer has asked to retract five papers from the lab of Min-Jean Yin, a cancer researcher. A spokesperson for the company confirmed to us that Yin had been fired:

…Min-Jean Yin’s employment has been terminated as a result of our investigation.

The five papers to be retracted are:

The Pfizer spokesperson confirmed a statement included in Schneider’s blog, which reads:

We have been able to confirm that all or nearly all of the images in these five articles that were flagged as potential duplicates on PubPeer.com indeed appear to be duplicates.  Based on the findings from the investigation, Pfizer is recommending to the journals that all five articles be retracted, and Pfizer also has encouraged the first and corresponding/senior authors of each of the five papers to request that their article be retracted.  The senior and corresponding author of each paper, Min-Jean Yin, Ph.D., has agreed with Pfizer’s recommendation to request retraction of each article.  Each of the three scientists who served as first authors of these five papers, Pramod Mehta, Sangita Baxi, and Rounak Nassirpour, Ph.D., has also agreed to request retraction of the article or articles for which he or she served as first author.  Pfizer has attempted to communicate with all remaining co-authors across the five papers to inform them of the investigative findings and has succeeded in reaching the vast majority of them.  All co-authors who have responded to our attempts to contact them have concurred with the decision to seek a retraction of their article or articles.

We heard from a representative of the American Association for Cancer Research, which publishes Clinical Cancer Research and Molecular Cancer Research. She told us:

We do not discuss retraction requests in advance.   When we receive such requests, we do investigate them and we correct the literature if that is the appropriate action to take.

Yin has already corrected one paper — “Suppression of Heat Shock Protein 27 Using OGX-427 Induces Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress and Potentiates Heat Shock Protein 90 Inhibitors to Delay Castrate-resistant Prostate Cancer” in European Urology was corrected earlier this year to fix image problems:

We write to inform you of an error in Figure 6 of this paper. During the assembly of Figure 6A, pictures were mislabeled and inadvertently added twice in different conditions in the panel. A corrected Figure 6 is provided (revised Fig. 6a). The repeat staining and analysis are consistent with the original paper and do not affect the overall interpretation of findings or conclusion of the paper.

That 2014 paper has been cited 19 times.

In regards to that paper, Pfizer says in its statement:

…there was only one Pfizer scientist listed as an author, but for that paper, she was not the first author, or the corresponding author, or the senior author.  The study was done primarily at the University of British Columbia.  Therefore, we have been in contact with that institution regarding this allegation.  We understand that a correction has been issued by the journal, at the request of the senior author from that university.

Martin Gleave, the corresponding author on that corrected paper, told us:

Francois Lamaroux, the first author, had completed his post doctoral training and returned to assume a faculty position in France during the time the manuscript was being drafted, and indeed had been gone for over one  year at the time of submission. He recalls having to connect cross sites to complete the manuscript and unfortunately mislabelled the pictures of the Figure 6A during his time in the lab. When he subsequently put together the figures we did not notice this mistake and thus the paper was submitted with incorrectly labelled original figures.  When we became aware of this, we retrieved slides and paraffin blocks from our xenograft tumor bank to re-analyze all the cases used in this study. We re-stained for HSP27 and GRP78, and re-scanned and re-scored the slides. Scoring results including outliers show the same trend as the original published results.

Because the error was correctable and did not alter the interpretation of that particular figure or the over results in any way, we did not feel it necessary to retract the paper.

According to Yin’s Linked In profile, she is now the general manager at a startup Diagnologix.

Update 1/17/17 12:10 p.m. eastern: Two of the flagged papers have been retracted. See our update here.

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Comments
  • Donald Osborne October 12, 2016 at 1:00 am

    “According to Yin’s Linked In profile, she is now the general manager at a startup Diagnologix.”

    It never ceases to amaze me that individuals so incompetent as to fabricate their research continue to find good positions elsewhere. Do these employers not do their homework?

    • fernandopessoa October 12, 2016 at 3:03 am

      I think that the employers do do their homework.

    • Anonymous October 12, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Unfortunately, knowledge of misconduct does not always come to light in time to prevent another company/school from hiring the fraudster. The disaster at ORI does not help matters. Given that cases are taking many, many years to resolve, the public should at least be aware of an investigation happening.

      When you are charged with a crime, it is a matter of public record. Why is the crime of defrauding the government treated so differently? Charge them like criminals and give them due process. Instead, we have have some world of secret investigations that sometimes only come to light after multiple institutions have been damaged by a sham scientist.

  • oldnuke October 12, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Considering that the company only has four employees, she probably “manages” one employee…
    https://www.sbir.gov/sbirsearch/detail/416908

  • Rosie October 12, 2016 at 11:39 am

    This company has over $1 million in federal SBIR funding, at a time when research funding is tight. Really, Is this the person we want managing the research project and spending our tax money?

    • oldnuke October 12, 2016 at 12:47 pm

      And would you have any faith in their results?

  • imohacsi October 12, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    A surprising, but really welcome move from Pfizer. Its about time that big medical companies stop being the final resting place of fraudsters.

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