Ex-Amgen drug researcher calls out questionable cancer findings

Drug developers have fresh reasons to doubt their ability to translate cancer research wins into anti-tumor treatments. In a Nature article, a former top R&D dog at biotech giant Amgen ($AMGN) spills the difficulty he's had in replicating the results of preclinical lab research from academia and elsewhere, exposing some scary accounts of lab experiments gone awry.

C. Glenn Begley, now a senior vice president at the cancer drug developer TetraLogic, and his former Amgen colleagues struck out when they attempted to get the same results of cancer studies 47 out of 53 times, Reuters reported. And the group was targeting studies that had been published in the most exclusive scientific journals. Yes, this means that research that made headlines for unearthing new weaknesses in tumors didn't hold water in Amgen's labs.

Begley's account nearly matches what Bayer scientists have previously reported about shoddy cancer research, often done in the ivory towers of academia. The abysmally low success rate in replicating such studies points to some troubling potential truths about the state of academia, where researchers scramble to get published in an effort to keep grant money flowing into their labs--even if it means bending ethical standards.

The problem in industry, however, is that drugmakers spend a fortune investigating leads generated from university labs that turn out to be bogus.

"It drives people in industry crazy. Why are we seeing a collapse of the pharma and biotech industries? One possibility is that academia is not providing accurate findings," George Robertson, a former Merck ($MRK) scientist now working at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, told Reuters.

Sadly, the news service found out from Begley that one researcher whose cancer study results couldn't be replicated after numerous tries wasn't at all surprised to hear as much from Begley because that researcher's own lab had the same problem--only they chose to rush out with upbeat results from one of several experiments that panned out. And the problem, unfortunately, goes beyond the oncology research community.

- get more in the Reuters article
- see Pharmalot's take