Indian-American’s padded resume halts cancer drug trials

July 21st, 2010 - 10:23 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, July 21 (IANS) Researchers have stopped three clinical trials that rely on the work of an Indian-American scientist who allegedly falsely claimed to be a Rhodes scholar on applications he submitted for federal grant funding.

The three trials are testing the genetic findings reported by cancer researcher Anil Potti and his colleagues at Duke University, according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Last week, Duke placed Potti on administrative leave after allegations arose that on grant applications he embellished his resume with the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

Enrolment in the trials was halted Sunday at Duke and elsewhere. The next day, a letter signed by 31 researchers at universities across the nation sharply criticised the work conducted by Potti and Joseph Nevins, another Duke cancer researcher, noting “serious errors” in their science.

“In this new light, the investigators of three clinical trials… elected to suspend enrolment of new study subjects… until a full review of the underlying data and a re-review of the science can be completed,” Duke spokesman Douglas Stokke said in a written statement.

Potti’s research involved a genetic test that he claimed could predict who might respond well to certain cancer drugs — the trials were testing that approach.

But Potti’s genetic analysis has been questioned since he first published his results in 2006. According to the letter from the other researchers, scientists could not recreate Potti’s discovery, leading them to question whether it was true.

Of particular concern to the outside scientists was the prospect that patients were put at risk by their participation in the clinical trials using Potti’s work. They said the unproven genetic analysis could result in patients being prescribed an improper treatment.

“It is absolutely premature to use these prediction models to influence the therapeutic options open to cancer patients,” states the letter, which was sent to the head of the National Cancer Institute, Harold Varmus.

The letter was dated July 19. A spokesman for the cancer institute, Rich Folkers, cited by McClatchy said the agency received the letter Tuesday but could not comment on its allegations.

Potti, who came to Duke in 2003 from the University of North Dakota, has brought federal funding to Duke from a variety of sources, but some of that money is now in question.

After hearing about a report in The Cancer Letter on Potti’s false claims, the American Cancer Society late last week froze payments to a $729,000 research project it was funding in Potti’s lab, McClatchy network said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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