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Doctor Accused of Misconduct on Pharma Payroll

By Lee Howard
TheDay.com | November 24, 2010

A Duke University associate professor accused of research misconduct had received nearly $100,000 from drug companies Eli Lilly & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline over the past two years for conducting education programs and consulting, according to an online database compiled by ProPublica.

Geneticist Anil Potti, a cancer specialist associated with the Duke University Medical School, had been a member of Lilly’s speakers’ bureau since 2006, the company confirmed. He is at least the second member of a major pharmaceutical company’s speakers bureau to be accused of research misconduct in the past year.

Last year, Dr. Scott S. Reuben, a former member of Pfizer Inc.’s speakers bureau, resigned from the Bay State Medical Center after being accused of fraud involving research projects supported by Pfizer.

Reuben pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of health care fraud. Pfizer was never implicated in the probe, and in fact received nearly $300,000 in restitution because Reuben’s research – which, in some cases, touted combinations of the company’s medications – was found to have been completely fabricated.

Last week, Duke announced that Potti had resigned from his position after being accused of research misconduct.

“He accepted full responsibility for a series of anomalies in data handling, analysis and management that have come under scrutiny in the past months,” according to an e-mail from Hunt Willard, director of Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, as reported by the Duke Chronicle student newspaper.

Lilly and another company, CancerGuide Diagnostics, both ended their relationships with Potti in July, after questions emerged about the researcher’s credentials, including a false reference to having been a Rhodes Scholar. Lilly gave Potti more than $92,000 for speaking engagements and consulting over the past two years, while Glaxo handed out $6,000 in consulting fees last year.

Lilly was one of several large pharmaceutical companies reportedly planning to tighten the screening of physicians chosen to promote their drugs. The move came after ProPublica reported last month that more than 250 doctors who have received funding from pharmaceutical firms had been sanctioned for misconduct.

“Lilly … did not previously conduct such screening and was unaware of the dozens of actions ProPublica found against its speakers,” according to an online publication called UK Progressive.

Duke already has retracted two research papers associated with the researcher. It also closed three clinical trials on which Potti had been working, including one supported by Lilly.

In June, Potti called experimental Pfizer lung-cancer drug crizotinib “a huge success” for its effect on a particular group of patients. Potti was not involved in the study directly, according to reports at the time, and has not received funding from Pfizer, according to the ProPublica database.

Crizotinib has been advanced to late-stage clinical trials in which patients are to be scrutinized according to their genetic makeup. This is considered one of the first steps in developing so-called personalized medicines that can directly target the patients who are most likely to benefit from them.

Potti was considered a strong proponent of developing personalized medicines.


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