Biotech co-founder faked data in NIH-funded research, says federal watchdog

Viravuth Yin

A former researcher at the Mount Desert Island Laboratory in Maine who co-founded a lab spinoff faked data in research supported by federal funding, according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity.

The researcher, Viravuth Yin, “engaged in research misconduct by knowingly, intentionally, and/or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating data,” the ORI said in an announcement about the case. The work was published and submitted from 2015 to 2019, and Yin was principal investigator on one of the grants named by the ORI, worth more than $900,000.

Yin is now at Novo Biosciences, a Maine biotech focused on regenerative medicine that he and former MDI president Kevin Strange founded in 2014. As of last year, Novo had raised $4 million in private financing and $2.5 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the NIH. Yin and Strange, along with Michael Zasloff of Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., are the inventors of the company’s main compound, MSI-1436. The work does not seem directly related to the research described in the ORI report.

Neither Yin nor Strange responded to requests for comment about the ORI finding and how it might affect Novo’s work. [See update at the end of the post.]

Yin, who “neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct,” agreed to have his federally funded research supervised for two years, and to request the retraction of the three published papers, one of which is a correction of another:

Update, 8/17/21, 2245 UTC: Strange tells Retraction Watch:

We just received this report a few days ago.  After thorough review by our team, we are fully confident that the studies cited by ORI have no relationship to nor do they provide any scientific foundations for our previous and ongoing work.  Dr. Yin remains a valuable member of the Novo Biosciences team. 

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9 thoughts on “Biotech co-founder faked data in NIH-funded research, says federal watchdog”

  1. Criminal scientist gets hand-slap after embezzling $900,000 from taxpayers. No demand made for restitution from either the crook or the institution supervising him that raked off their “overhead.” Not even a permanent ban in feeding from the taxpayer trough. Business as usual in the world of white-collar Big Science fraudsters and scam artists and the universities that profit from them.

    1. Bill, the annual cost of corporate crime in the US is in the billions of dollars, if not higher, where criminal ‘business as usual’ continues seemingly unimpeded. Are you as upset with these criminal activities as you seem upset with research misconduct? How about the over one trillion US tax payer dollars that the US has sunk into training and equipping the Afghan army, much of the latter now in Taliban’s hands? Where is your uproar over these taxpayer dollar losses?

      1. So, unless Retraction Watch has become a general political blog (which occasionally it seems to get uncomfortably close to), why should Bill Frezza’s opinion on corporate wrongdoing and/or Afghanistan have any relevance to what he said regarding this particular issue?

        1. William, in this most recent post and in some of his previous posts written in reaction to instances of research misconduct and tax payer money, Bill seems to show a certain disdain for science and academia. I am just wondering whether he is equally outraged by the far more serious fraud that occurs in connection with the corporate sector or foreign aid. BTW, I don’t see ANY connection between my questions to Bill and politics in the traditional sense of that word. Would you be able to clarify that for me?

      2. Of course I am! Crony corporatism and institutional corruption, much of it legal, is part and parcel of our downward spiral. Indeed, research fraud is mouse nuts compared to, say, the fraud perpetrated by the repeatedly bailed out banksters who are joined at the hip with the federal reserve and all the congressmen on their payroll. I shared my “uproar” for years about that in my regular columns, before I want dark. Retraction Watch is one of the last two publications I subscribe to and I should know better than to post comments as it stimulates pointless conversations like this. I will desist.

  2. I would respond again that his opinions on things totally unrelated to the subject at hand are irrelevant. And if you wonder how bring up things like “How about the over one trillion US tax payer dollars that the US has sunk into training and equipping the Afghan army, much of the latter now in Taliban’s hands” doesn’t fall into the political spectrum, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    I’ll add that it’s perfectly possible to be both 1) scientifically trained/knowledgeable and 2) disdainful of academics. That doesn’t mean disdainful of science/scientists, just a certain subset…

  3. So what if Bill’s opinions are totally unrelated to the subject? I asked Bill a question. Why don’t you let Bill himself answer? And he doesn’t show disdain for science? Perhaps you are not familiar with some of his posts. Consider the following quote from a previous post: “… And let’s not even talk about the so-called Social Sciences, where just using the word Science is itself a fraud”.
    “Why taxpayers put up with this, marching in the streets to support “Science,” is a mystery. Yet speak up against the rot urging reform and stronger oversight of a bloated entitled class living on the dole, whose self policing has proven to be an utter failure, and you get labeled a science denier”(http://retractionwatch.com/2019/03/25/duke-settles-case-alleging-data-doctoring-for-112-5-million/).

    If you wish to defend the person behind this type of rhetoric, I have nothing further to say to you. And, no, I must be real dense because I still don’t get how a failed policy that has been supported by both republicans and democrats over the past 20 years “fall into the political spectrum” (of republicans vs. democrats).

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