Pfizer oncology researcher exits after spate of paper retractions: Reports

The For Better Science blog has confirmed that a leading cancer researcher has been let go by Pfizer ($PFE) as the U.S. Big Pharma giant initiated a series of science paper retractions after allegations of data manipulation.

These suspicions were first raised by PubPeer, but For Better Science had Pfizer confirm that its 13-year veteran senior principal scientist Min-Jean Yin was “no longer employed” by the company, according to a spokesperson.

As the blog points out, even though there has been no official word of her move, her LinkedIn profile says that since last month, she has been working at little-known California diagnostics outfit Diagnologix.

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The report from the blog, which has been following the story for months, says there have been 6 papers with concerns hanging around them with Yin’s name attached and/or coming out of her lab.

One of these has already been corrected, and 5 others that focused on cancer research on the efficiency of Pfizer’s own pharmacological enzyme inhibitors “(w)ill now be retracted, after an investigation performed by Pfizer which apparently confirmed the suspicions of data manipulation,” wrote the story’s author Leonid Schneider.

Yvonne Cristovici, assistant general counsel in the compliance division of Pfizer, told Schneider that the 5 papers originating from the lab were:

  • Nassirpour et al., miR-221 Promotes Tumorigenesis in Human Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells, 8(4) PLOS ONE, (2013);
  • Baxi et al., Targeting 3-Phosphoinoside-Dependent Kinase-1 to Inhibit Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I Induced AKT and p70 S6 Kinase Activation in Breast Cancer Cells, 7(10) PLOS ONE (2012);
  • Mehta et al., A novel class of specific Hsp90 small molecule inhibitors demonstrate in vitro and in vivo anti-tumor activity in human melanoma cells, 300 Cancer Letters 30 (2011);
  • Mehta et al., Effective Targeting of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Cells by PF-4942847, a Novel Oral Inhibitor of Hsp 90, 17(6) Clinical Cancer Research 5432, 2011; and
  • Nassirpour et al., Nek6 Mediates Human Cancer Cell Transformation And Is A Potential Cancer Therapeutic Target, 8(5) Molecular Cancer Research 717 (2010).

“We have been able to confirm that all or nearly all of the images in these five articles that were flagged as potential duplicates on indeed appear to be duplicates," Cristovici said. "Based on the findings from the investigation, Pfizer is recommending to the journals that all five articles be retracted, and Pfizer also has encouraged the first and corresponding/senior authors of each of the five papers to request that their article be retracted. 

“The senior and corresponding author of each paper, Min-Jean Yin, Ph.D., has agreed with Pfizer’s recommendation to request retraction of each article. Each of the three scientists who served as first authors of these five papers, Pramod Mehta, Sangita Baxi, and Rounak Nassirpour, Ph.D., has also agreed to request retraction of the article or articles for which he or she served as first author. 

“Pfizer has attempted to communicate with all remaining co-authors across the five papers to inform them of the investigative findings and has succeeded in reaching the vast majority of them.  All co-authors who have responded to our attempts to contact them have concurred with the decision to seek a retraction of their article or articles.”

Back in 2014, Swiss Big Pharma Novartis ($NVS) also had troubles in the area when it canned a biomedical researcher, Igor Dzhura, after he was alleged to have falsified figures, made up tests and duplicated computer files over a period of years, making studies look much more promising than they were, and said to have faked around 70 images related to a number of papers.

The company was also hit over the past three years with a series of paper retractions over its blood pressure drug Diovan (valsartan) after an employee participated without declaring his ties, and in which there is questionable data that made the Diovan results look stronger.