Novartis ($NVS) has washed its hands of a researcher who admitted to falsifying results in a series of published papers, promising to dig into his work at the company to determine whether the pattern continued in its own labs.
As the federal Office of Research Integrity disclosed, former Vanderbilt biomedical researcher Igor Dzhura falsified figures, made up tests and duplicated computer files over a period of years, making studies look much more promising than they were. On the whole, Dzhura admitted to doctoring at least 69 images in 12 figures across 7 publications and three grant applications, according to Retraction Watch, forcing him to retract 6 papers printed by Nature Cell Biology, Journal of Physiology and others.
His punishment is a three-year ban from any publicly funded research projects, and, as Retraction Watch confirmed, the loss of his position at Novartis' Boston R&D operation. All of Dzhura's admitted frauds took place during his time at Vanderbilt, before he joined Novartis in 2011, but the company has taken swift action to distance itself from him.
"We have learned that Igor Dzhura included papers with fraudulent data in his application for employment at Novartis," the Swiss drugmaker told Retraction Watch in a statement. "Falsifying data is not acceptable, and we have terminated his employment with the company. We are conducting an internal review to ensure that there was not any scientific misconduct related to his research here."
The issue comes amid mounting concerns about the reliability of research public and private, driven to the forefront by scandals in academia and industry. In the biotech world, Hyperion Therapeutics ($HPTX) believed it was on its way to building out a diabetes pipeline when it signed a deal worth up to $570 million for Israel's Andromeda Biotech, only to discover major data flaws it blamed on researcher malfeasance.
Earlier this year, Japan's vaunted Riken Center for Developmental Biology touted the breakthrough discovery that researchers had managed to engineer therapeutically useful stem cells simply by exposing healthy adult ones to trauma and acidic conditions. But, under scrutiny, the claims began to fall apart, setting in motion a scandal that ended with the suicide of one of Riken's top scientists.