NIH to lift Duke sanctions stemming from misconduct

Duke University

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to lift sanctions it placed on Duke University more than 1.5 years ago following concerns about how the school responded to recent cases of misconduct.

In a memo today to faculty and staff obtained by Retraction Watch, Lawrence Carin, Duke vice president for research wrote:

Yesterday the NIH responded with a plan to restore Duke’s Expanded Authority and lifting of the special award conditions imposed within their March 2018 letter to Duke. This is excellent news, reflecting the NIH’s restored confidence in Duke, but it is contingent on two important elements: 

1) Completion of the remaining commitments by Duke as detailed in the April 2018 Corrective Action Plan, before the start of calendar year 2020. Duke is on-target with the remaining plans and we anticipate a successful final report in December. 

2) Continued focus on scientific integrity and strong administrative processes to ensure adherence with NIH policies and procedures. It is clear that the NIH will be watching to make certain that Duke maintains its emphasis on research culture and accountability with respect to NIH policies. 

The sanctions went into effect in March 2018, following revelations about misconduct in cancer trials by Anil Potti, the suspension of seven grants for psychiatry research because of concerns for patient safety, and ongoing allegations of misconduct that eventually resulted in a $112.5 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. As we reported then,

[T]he NIH now requires Duke researchers to obtain prior approval for any modifications to new and existing grants. And any Duke researcher submitting a so-called “modular application” for a grant worth less than $250,000 per year must include “detailed budgets” justifying the costs.

At the time, an attorney who has represented universities in such cases said the sanctions were “fairly rare and extensive.”

Between the Potti case and the case involving Erin Potts-Kant, journals have retracted 29 papers by Duke researchers. Late last month, Potts-Kant earned a lifetime ban on federal U.S. funding. Potti agreed to five years of supervision for any such funded research, starting in 2015.

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