This is not good. Not good at all.
On Friday, Paul Goldberg of The Cancer Letter reported on an investigation into Duke cancer researcher, Anil Potti, MD, and claims made that he was a Rhodes Scholar – in Australia. The misrepresentation was made on grant applications to NIH and the American Cancer Society.
The Cancer Letter, a $375/year go-to newsletter on cancer research, funding, and drug development, has made this issue free at this PDF link.
News & Observer higher education reporter, Eric Ferreri, has a nice overview of the situation. Potti has been placed on administrative leave by Duke and the American Cancer Society has suspended payments on his grant and initiated their own investigation.
This news follows on questions regarding Potti’s highly-promoted research conducted in the lab of Joe Nevins at Duke. From The Cancer Letter PDF on page 6:
The Nevins and Potti team emerged as pioneers of personalized medicine in 2006, when Nature Medicine published their paper claiming that microarray analysis of patient tumors could be used to predict response to chemotherapy.
However, two biostatisticians at the MD Anderson Cancer Center attempted to verify this work when oncologists asked whether microarray analysis could be used in the clinic. Keith Baggerly and Kevin Coombes, the statisticians, found a series of errors, including mislabeling and an “off-by-one” error, where gene probe identifiers were mismatched with the names of genes.
Baggerly and Coombes said they devoted about 1,500 hours to checking Potti’s and Nevins’s work. These efforts–dubbed “forensic bioinformatics”–resulted in a paper in the November 2009, issue of the Annals of Applied Statistics.
The Nature Medicine paper lists two corrigenda on sample duplication and mistakes in the gene list that appear to have preceded the Baggerly and Coombes analysis.
According to current issue of The Cancer Letter and several previous issues, Duke terminated three clinical trials of microarray-based individualized chemotherapy but the trials were then restarted after evaluation of the methodology by outside experts. The report was considered confidential by a Duke official but Goldberg noted that following its submission to NCI, the report became subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
A link to the report is provided among the Special Reports list at The Cancer Letter website. The report details some of the problems with the data and the responses by the research team that included several corrections to other papers. However, Goldberg reports that Duke officials “were inaccurate in their description of the document’s substance and conclusions when they announced completion of the investigation and resumption of the clinical trials earlier this year.”
The personalized genomics work of Potti, now an associate professor of medicine at Duke, was widely publicized by the university and included television advertisements that aired locally as late as last year. When I attempted to access The Cancer Letter link to one of the announcements at Duke’s YouTube page, the URL returned with the message, “This video is private.”
This latest development reported by Goldberg also includes several other inconsistencies in Potti’s biosketches regarding residency sites and awards from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Addendum (19 July, 11:45 am) after thinking more about this overnight: What I don’t understand from a grant reviewer’s standpoint is why Potti thought that being a Rhodes Scholar would make a damn bit of difference in how he was evaluated as an investigator.