Paper on canine gastrointestinal illness dogged by lack of disclosures

A veterinary journal has retracted — in a big way — a 2021 paper about bowel disease in dogs by a group of authors who failed to disclose key conflicts of interest and then appear to have lied about the omission when pressed.

The article, “Utility of the combined use of 3 serologic markers in the diagnosis and monitoring of chronic enteropathies in dogs,” appeared in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, an official title of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 

The first author was Juan Estruch, of Vetica Labs, a rather opaque company based in San Diego and of which Estruch is listed in securities documents as having been the CEO back in 2015.

As it happens, Vetica made and licensed to another company assays that can be used to detect intestinal illnesses in dogs, and perhaps other animals, too. Those assays, which are marketed by Antech Diagnostics (more on that in a moment), were used in the study — a fact the authors failed to disclose to the editors of the journal at the time the authors submitted their manuscript. What’s more, they neglected to mention the connection even after a reader complained to the journal about the oversight, as the retraction notice explains in detail

The above article, published online on 7 May 2021 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted by agreement between the journal’s Co-Editors-in-Chief, Stephen P. DiBartola and Kenneth W. Hinchcliff, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and Wiley Periodicals LLC. The retraction has been agreed because of failure by the authors to disclose major conflicts of interest that, in the view of the editors, would have unduly affected recommendations for acceptance and publication by reviewers and the editors as well as interpretation of the study by readers.

The Co-Editors-in-Chief were first alerted by a reader to concerns about potentially relevant undisclosed conflicts of interest in relation to this article on 22 May, 2021. No conflicts of interest were reported at the time of submission of the article and none were declared in three revisions of the manuscript during the review process. The authors were asked on 1 June 2021 to confirm they had no conflicts of interest, or otherwise to revise their declaration. Drs. Estruch and Bergman replied on 1 June 2021 that they had no conflicts of interest to declare.

A Letter to the Editor questioning aspects of the study’s design and expressing concern about undisclosed conflicts of interest was submitted on 2 June 2021 (https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.16303). The response by the authors did not, in the view of the Co-Editors-in-Chief, adequately address the matter of undisclosed conflicts of interest (https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.16304). The authors were asked by the Co-Editors-in-Chief on 24 July 2021 to respond to further questions related to undisclosed conflicts of interest. A response from the authors was received on 6 August, 2021. On 24 August 2021, the Co-Editors-in-Chief requested additional information from the authors, which was provided on 4 September 2021.

A brief diversion: The letter is worth reading, as it identifies several serious issues with the study. Among these: the authors don’t provide analytical data in their article and may have included animals without inflammatory bowel disease, thus diluting the clinical utility of the test — with potentially “detrimental” consequences for misdiagnosed dogs. 

Moreover, according to the letter writers: 

the authors state that the markers described in their study have been used as clinical tools for the diagnosis of gastrointestinal conditions in humans for decades. This statement is misleading. While serum AGA is used as a marker for coeliac disease in humans, the relevance of this condition remains unknown in dogs and the other two markers have not been widely adopted in human gastroenterology.7, 8 Furthermore, American Gastroenterological Association guidelines state “routine use of serological markers of IBD to establish a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease is not indicated.”

Back to the retraction notice, which continues: 

The Co-Editors-in-Chief convened a panel of four independent experts* to provide advice on whether conflicts of interest were disclosed in a timely fashion and whether knowledge of such conflicts of interest would have affected assessment of the submitted manuscript by reviewers and editors and interpretation of the published article by readers. The panel advised that, in their opinion, the authors failed to disclose relevant conflicts of interest, specifically that:

Dr. Estruch is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Vetica Labs.

Vetica Labs is the developer of the assays reported in the article and these assays are licensed to Antech under a commercial agreement.

Antech, which is owned by Mars, began offering the assays for clinical use in July 2020.

Antech is an investor in Vetica Labs.

Dr. Johnson was a consultant to Vetica Labs between 2015–2018, during the time when the study was conducted, and received speaking fees from Antech in 2020.

VCA Clinical Studies received fee-for-service payment for provision of the clinical samples included in this study.

Co-authors Drs. Ford, Johnson, Yoshimoto, Mills and Bergman at both the time of the study and publication of the article were veterinarians associated with VCA or Blue Pearl which are owned by Mars.

Based on the panel’s advice and available evidence, the Co-Editors-in-Chief conclude that the authors did not declare relevant conflicts of interest in a timely manner. The Co-Editors-in-Chief believe that failure to disclose major conflicts of interest at the time of submission, during the review process, and at the time of publication could have influenced decisions made by reviewers and the editors as well as interpretation of the study’s findings by readers of the published article. These concerns are serious and relevant because the assays described in the article were marketed for clinical use before the article was published and continue to be marketed, and the published article could be used as justification for their use.

The article has been cited five times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. 

We asked Estruch for comment but have not heard back. 

Meanwhile, in announcing the availability of the assays, Antech linked to a 2020 study in JVIM by Estruch and colleagues. It, too, does not report any conflicts of interest. 

Stephen DiBartola, one of two editors in chief of the journal, did not respond to our queries about either article.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a one-time tax-deductible contribution by PayPal or by Square, or a monthly tax-deductible donation by Paypal to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at team@retractionwatch.com.

2 thoughts on “Paper on canine gastrointestinal illness dogged by lack of disclosures”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.