Pharmaceutical 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:
- miR-221 Promotes Tumorigenesis in Human Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells, PLOS ONE, published 2013, cited 35 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
- Targeting 3-Phosphoinoside-Dependent Kinase-1 to Inhibit Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I Induced AKT and p70 S6 Kinase Activation in Breast Cancer Cells, PLOS ONE, published 2012, cited seven times.
- A novel class of specific Hsp90 small molecule inhibitors demonstrate in vitro and in vivo anti-tumor activity in human melanoma cells, Cancer Letters, published 2011, cited 11 times.
- Effective Targeting of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Cells by PF-4942847, a Novel Oral Inhibitor of Hsp 90, Clinical Cancer Research, published 2011, cited 24 times.
- Nek6 Mediates Human Cancer Cell Transformation And Is A Potential Cancer Therapeutic Target, Molecular Cancer Research, published 2010, cited 31 times.
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 onindeed 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.
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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