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Settlement Reached in Misconduct Case

A cancer researcher found guilty of misconduct has reached a settlement with the ORI that allows him to apply for federal research funding.

By | April 19, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, GALLO & SPERO LLPThe Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has reached a settlement agreement with cancer biologist and biochemist Phillippe Bois, who was found guilty of research misconduct in 2011 and barred from applying for federal grants for 3 years. Bois filed a lawsuit to the District Court to overturn the penalty, and the subsequent settlement means he is eligible to apply for federal research funding—though he will no longer seek to appeal the ORI’s findings, according to an announcement published yesterday (April 18) in the Federal Register.

“I have been fighting to clear my name for almost 7 years, and I am glad to be able to put this matter behind and to move on with my career in science,” said Bois in a statement released by his defense attorneys. “ORI’s decision to cease seeking a debarment is a clear signal to me that its findings would not have been sustained by a judge and that its proposed punishment, a three-year debarment, was excessive and unreasonable.”

In May 2011 the ORI found that Bois had committed two counts of research misconduct while working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee: he had falsified an image to conceal unwanted results for a paper in the Journal of Cell Biology, which was later retracted, and deliberately mislabeled gel lanes for a paper that appeared in Molecular and Cell Biology.

Bois requested a hearing before the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to defend himself but was denied on the grounds that he was presenting no new factual evidence. Bois was thus stripped of his right to apply for federal research money for 3 years. Bois filed a lawsuit with the District Court for the District of Columbia, asking the court to overturn the debarment and grant a hearing before the HHS. Bois maintains that the so-called falsifications cited by the ORI were honest mistakes rather than deliberate deception.

In March 2012, the District Court judge upheld the ORI’s findings on the first count but ruled that Bois deserved a hearing on the second count—not because the evidence he presented was compelling, but because the HHS administrative law judge had failed to respond properly to his appeal. The two parties finally entered into a settlement agreement last month (March 14).

Although Bois is able to apply for federal dollars, he has not been cleared of misconduct, though he will no longer seek to appeal the ORI’s findings. According to the Federal Register, Bois has also agreed to have his research supervised for 3 years, and agreed that if and when he does submit grant applications, his institution must submit certification that his data are legitimate.

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