Vaccine Fraudster Gets Jail Time

The researcher who spiked rabbit blood with human antibodies to make an HIV vaccine look more effective is sentenced to 57 months in prison and must repay his National Institutes of Health grant.

By | July 6, 2015

WIKIMEDIA, VALERIE EVERETT

A former Iowa State University (ISU) scientist who pled guilty to felony counts of research misconduct earlier this year for adding human antibodies to blood from rabbits to make an HIV vaccine appear more effective is going to jail. Dong-Pyou Han, who was forced to resign from ISU in 2013 after the fraud was discovered, will serve 57 months in prison and will have to repay the $7.2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that funded the research, according to The Des Moines Register.

“I deeply regret any and all misconduct,” Han said in the Iowa courtroom where he was sentenced last week (July 1). “I meant no harm to anyone.”

Such stiff penalties are rare in cases of scientific misconduct. Guilty parties are usually subject to fines and prohibitions from receiving further federal research funding, but there have been a handful of instances where fraudsters were given jail time for their actions. “This is a stiff sentence,” science writer Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch told The Des Moines Register. “This is a no-messing-around prison term when it comes to scientific fraud.”

Han’s misconduct attracted attention last year when Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and U.S. attorney’s office in Des Moines took the case to a grand jury in June. Han resigned from ISU in 2013, after the fraud was uncovered.

David Wright, a former director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI)—which investigates cases of research misconduct among NIH grantees—told Nature that the wider benefits of Han’s punishment are unclear. “It’s questionable how much more is to be gained by jail time,” he said, adding that the penalties normally meted out by ORI—especially being barred from receiving federal funding—are usually sufficient to ruin a fraudulent researcher’s career.

U.S. District Judge James Gritzner, who presided over Han’s sentencing, mentioned that Han would likely be deported to his native South Korea after serving his jail time in the U.S., according to The Des Moines Register.

Update (January 14, 2016): The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has denied an appeal filed last year by Dong-Pyou Han’s attorney, according to Retraction Watch. In its decision, filed this week (January 11), the court wrote that Han’s 57-month sentence “was not substantively unreasonable.”

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

July 6, 2015

This is about time.  Here, $7.2 million that could have gone to close to two dozen truly deserving, starting out scientists just went up in smoke.  This is just as bad as Medicare fraud, worse even by the numbers, so, jail time?  Oh, yeah!  It's about time someone had the guts to state that ORI "sanctions" are toothless.  I hope that there are many more decisions like this one.  Saying, "You did weewee bad, and you need to take a time out.", is worthless.  In Industry, if one flagrantly violates the FDA's research GLP or GCP regulations, one could serve jail time.  Why should the treatment of other criminals be any different?  Regarding this case, the so-called bioethicists have gotten another one wrong.

This case also goes, AGAIN, to the heart of the sick research enterprise in America, zero oversight by principal investigators.  Michael Cho has placed a cloud over his own organization, a big one.

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 135

July 6, 2015

Frankly, I reckon that it is high time that this sort of reaction to deliberate fraud in science should be standard, whether it involves money or not. Any such offence causes unpredictable harm because of the possibility of people acting on the assumption that the results were to be trusted, because of the example to  youngsters in science, and because of the effect on the public image of science. I can think of quite a few cases where a jail sentence would have been appropriate for major figures who now are still in their jobs, while the whistle blowers are not.

Apart from the sheer anger and disgust, what about the implicit approval of the abuses?
About systematic corruption of such things as pharmaceutical work of course...
Better ask someone else.

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 135

July 6, 2015

And oh yes, if it did indeed become real practice, there would be a real prospect of getting to grips with quackery frauds who quote garbage as research; it would double our jail population at a stroke, but would pay for itself in medical fraud at a stroke, with all the homeopathy and quantum garbage being taken off the market.

 

As a bonus it might also make legitimate workers a bit more thoughtful about their experimental design, lest someone accuse them too. I can think of a few cases...

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 135

July 6, 2015

And oh yes, if it did indeed become real practice, there would be a real prospect of getting to grips with quackery frauds who quote garbage as research; it would double our jail population at a stroke, but also would pay for itself in medical fraud at a stroke, with all the homeopathy and quantum garbage being taken off the market.

 

As a bonus it might also make legitimate workers a bit more thoughtful about their experimental design, lest someone accuse them too. I can think of a few cases...

Avatar of: Baxter Zappa

Baxter Zappa

Posts: 11

July 14, 2015

Perhaps the penalty was so stiff because of a few factors:

1) faking data about an AiDS/HIV vaccine delays development of a real vaccine, and with 1.5 million HIV-related deaths per year, this delay may well cost lives.

2) The huge size of the grant that was being misused.

Avatar of: qwertyuiop

qwertyuiop

Posts: 1

January 16, 2016

Wat is surprising is that anyone would express surprise and wonder what the point of a jail sentence is. He broke the law  - simple.- with a type of crime that people go to jail for.  Now he has to pay like any other citizen by doing jail time. Anything else would suggest that scientists are above the law. 

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