Biotech co-founder settles accusations of faked research data

Viravuth Yin, Ph.D. (MDI Biological Laboratory)

The co-founder of heart regeneration biotech Novo Biosciences engaged in research misconduct by falsifying or fabricating data, according to the Office of Research Integrity (ORI). Viravuth Yin, Ph.D., settled the case without admitting or denying the ORI’s findings of research misconduct.

The ORI allegations center on publicly funded research Yin did at the Mount Desert Island (MDI) Biological Laboratory. According to the ORI, Yin reused, relabeled and reported phosphate buffered saline controls as scrambled antisense locked nucleic acids in experimental results and reported “research methods and statistics that were not performed.”

Yin entered into a voluntary settlement to resolve the case. In doing so, Yin agreed to have his work supervised for two years and seek ORI approval before seeking public funding for research projects. It is unclear what that will mean in practice for Yin, who hasn’t been part of the faculty at MDI for at least one year.

The three published papers and two submitted manuscripts covered by the allegations all relate to heart regeneration, the goal of Novo’s drug candidate MSI-1436. However, the mechanisms studied in the papers differ from that being pursued by Novo. The papers address the role microRNA plays in the coordination of zebrafish heart regeneration, whereas Novo is focused on PTP1B inhibition.  

Kevin Strange, Ph.D., who co-founded Novo and co-invented MSI-1436 with Yin, confirmed the absence of overlap between the research in a statement to Retraction Watch. “After thorough review by our team, we are fully confident that the studies cited by ORI have no relationship to nor do they provide any scientific foundations for our previous and ongoing work. Dr. Yin remains a valuable member of the Novo Biosciences team,” Strange said. 

Novo raised $4 million last year to support preparations for an IND. The biotech has also supported its work through grants from the Small Business Innovation Research program and the National Institutes of Health.