Five journals published by a prominent cancer research society have retracted a total of 10 papers — most of them by a former researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Nine of the 10 retractions share that researcher, Bharat Aggarwal, as an author. Aggarwal — who more than five years ago threatened to sue us for reporting on an investigation into his work — is now up to 28 retractions, and has left his post at MD Anderson. The AACR is also appending an editor’s note to eight of his other papers — but it has not explained the reason for what it acknowledges is a lag in moving on these articles.
That’s a complex question, of course, depending on how long the alleged issues with a paper take to be investigated, whether authors — and their lawyers — fight tooth-and-nail against a retraction, and other factors. But once a university officially requests a retraction, how long should one take?
A pharmaceutical company has admitted that one of its former researchers falsified early data on a compound that’s designed to fight cancer, now in human trials.
The data, published as an abstract in August 2015 in the journal Cancer Research, reported a therapeutic benefit of acalabrutinib in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. The compound, developed by the company Acerta Pharma, has also been the subject of additional trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Bloodin 2015. The 2015 NEJM study, which had several authors in common with the Cancer Research abstract, showed the agent had “promising safety and efficacy profiles in patients” with relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
But an investigation into the data underlying the 2015 abstract shows some were falsified, prompting the journal to retract the abstract.
Ed Tucker, senior vice president of Medical Safety, Quality and Compliance at Acerta Pharma, told us that in August 2016 the company identified an issue with the data in the Cancer Research abstract and started an investigation:
Earlier this year, the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center teamed up to write a letter.
Addressed to the editorial office at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), the letter, parts of which have been published in a retraction notice, contained information concerning two papers on genetic risk factors for a type of kidney cancer and a type of uterine cancer, respectively, published in different AACR journals over a decade ago by researchers affiliated with the institutions.
The papers had been at the center of research misconduct investigations at both UCSF and the VA and the investigations came to the conclusion that both papers contained:
fabrication or falsification of data that constitutes Research Misconduct.
Image duplications and unsupported data continue to plague a network of cancer researchers that includes the former vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Los Angeles, James Economou.
On July 2, the editors at Cancer Research retracteda 2011 paper that Economou published as last author, saying it suffered from image duplication and unsupported figures. This is the second retraction we’re aware of to come out of an investigation by UCLA’s Office of Research Policy and Compliance that has touched this group of scientists.
When journals learn papers are problematic, how long does it take them to act?
We recently had a chance to find out as part of our continuing coverage of the case of Anil Jaiswal at the University of Maryland, who’s retracted 15 papers (including two new ones we recently identified), and has transitioned out of cancer research. Here’s what happened.
As part of a public records request related to the investigation, we received letters that the University of Maryland sent to 11 journals regarding 26 “compromised” papers co-authored by Jaiswal, four of which had been retracted by the time of the letter. The letters were dated between August and September 2016 (and one in February) — although, in some cases, the journals told us they received the letter later. Since that date, three journals have retracted nine papers and corrected another, waiting between four and six months to take action. One journal published an editorial note of concern within approximately two months after the university letter.
And six journals have not taken any public action.
A researcher formerly based at the National Cancer Institute has earned three new retractions following an investigation that found she committed misconduct.
In May of last year, Stephanie Watkins, who now works at Loyola Medicine, earned one two retraction, which mentions a review by an investigation committee at the National Institutes of Health. Two of the new notes, published in Cancer Research, mention the review as well, and cite data falsification in a figure as the reason for retraction. Watkins is the only author that did not agree to those retractions.
There may be more changes to the literature — an editor at another cancer journal told us the journal is awaiting a decision from the Office of Research Integrity before deciding what to do with a paper by Watkins, given that she does not agree with the misconduct charges.
Another domino has fallen in a chain of retractions for Robert Weinberg, the man who discovered the first tumor-causing gene in humans, along with the first tumor suppressor gene: Cancer Research just retracted a paper of his on some of the molecular steps to metastasis.
The hits keep coming for University of Maryland researcher Anil Jaiswal.
The latest retraction for the cell biologist is in Cancer Research, for a 2007 paper about ways in which the cell tries to protect the tumor suppressor p53. Like the first Jaiswal retraction we covered, the latest notice specifically taps figure duplication as the cause of death, “as a result of an error.” The other two retractions gave no explanation for the withdrawal.