Scandalous GSK Paper Retracted

The publication at the center of a June controversy for drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline is finally pulled from the literature.

By | December 10, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTENature Medicine has retracted a paper that contained falsified data almost six months after doubts were raised about the research and the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employee who authored it. In June, GSK fired Jungwu Zang, who ran the company’s neurodegenerative disease research center in Shanghai, after irregularities turned up in the 2010 paper, which he coauthored with other GSK scientists and a researcher from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

The paper detailed the role of the interleukin-7 receptor (IL-7R) and T-helper 17 (TH17) immune cells in multiple sclerosis and contained image of blood samples from healthy subjects and MS patients. One image, Figure 6, erroneously stated that it showed blood cells from MS patients at Baylor. From Nature Medicine’s retraction notice, which cited GSK’s own investigation into the irregularities: “The investigation established that the data depicted in Figure 6 and in Supplementary Figure 7 were erroneously attributed to experiments at Baylor Medical College with blood cells from patients with multiple sclerosis,” it read. “In fact, no data from experiments with blood cells from patients with multiple sclerosis and no data from experiments at Baylor Medical College were included in the paper.”

Though GSK suggested that the journal pull the paper back in June, Zang and first author Xuebin Liu refused to sign off on the retraction, stating that the mistake was unintentional and did not affect the paper’s overall conclusion that IL-7R plays a role in the overexpansion of TH17 cells, which contributes to MS progression. According to Retraction Watch, Zang finally agreed to the retraction along with the eight authors that initially signed off on the move. Liu and coauthor Stewart Leung declined to sign the retraction and continue to stand by the paper’s conclusions, while eight other coauthors either could not be reached or did not respond to the journal’s attempts to contact them regarding the retraction.

According to the blog Pharmalot, Zang has landed a chief scientific officer position at Simcere Pharmaceutical, in Nanjing, China, since the GSK scandal broke.

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December 10, 2013

Your title is a bit exaggerated. If indeed the error does not affect the overall conclusion but just the place where the experiment was done it is not scandalous but more absent-minded or at worst sloppy, and it is hardly GSKs fault, but rather their employee. It seems that GSK were the ones who identified the error in the first place!

Avatar of: ncyr


Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from 20120607103512153 made on December 10, 2013

December 10, 2013

@20120607103512153 the title reads "scandalous" which I believe any paper containing falsified result qualifies for such description. "GSK paper"... well it was written by scientists employed by the named company. "retracted" is exactly what happened to the paper. What's the problem then with the title of the article?

Avatar of: jtrott


Posts: 9

Replied to a comment from ncyr made on December 10, 2013

December 16, 2013

I agree with 20120607103512153. If the only problem was that the data was attributed to the wrong institution, not that the data was falsified, then it's sloppy but hardly scandalous.  GSK gets kudos for doing the investigation and making somebody accountable, but it doesn't sound like a huge deal, unless the data was all imaginary and not from any patients at all - but the article doesn't say this is the situation.

Avatar of: blumberg


Posts: 32

Replied to a comment from jtrott made on December 16, 2013

December 17, 2013

It was far more than data being attributed to the wrong institution.  They just made up experiments.  This should be a cautionary tale to other Big Pharma outfits considering moving research operations to China.

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