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GSK Sacks Chinese R&D Chief Over ‘Misrepresented’ Data

GSK has fired its Chinese research chief over ‘misrepresented data’ in a 2010 Nature Medicine paper.

| June 18, 2013 | Academia

AsianScientist (Jun. 17, 2013) – GlaxoSmithKline has fired its Chinese research chief over a 2010 Nature Medicine paper from its Research and Development Center in Shanghai, China.

The paper, led by Jingwu Zhang at the Shanghai research center, described the role of the signalling molecule interleukin-7 (IL-7) on a subset of T cells, known as T helper 17 (TH17) cells, in helping cells from multiple sclerosis (MS) patients to multiply. The finding was supported by related studies suggesting that genetic differences in IL-7 receptors could place individuals at risk to developing MS.

Concerns regarding the data arose in early June, when the company began investigating the research behind the publication. GSK has since requested that Nature Medicine retract the 2010 paper, as the experiments conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas were not conducted on blood cells donated by MS patients, but rather, using normal, healthy donor samples from its Shanghai center, or in some cases, undocumented sources.

In a statement from GSK regarding the study, the company said:

“The integrity of our research is critical to our work and when these allegations came to light we immediately contacted the journal to tell them that we were taking the charges seriously and would be investigating thoroughly. Regretfully, our investigation has established that certain data in the paper were indeed misrepresented. We’ve shared our conclusion that the paper should be retracted and are in the process of asking all of the authors to sign a statement to that effect, according to Nature Medicine’s procedure.”

Aside from the sacking of Jingwu Zhang, the second researcher who resigned was identified by a Nature blog, Spoonful of Medicine, as the paper’s first author, Xuebin Liu.

“We have taken action in response to these findings, which we have shared with our employees. One individual has been dismissed from GSK; a second has submitted his resignation and three others have been placed on administrative leave, pending a final review,” said the GSK statement.

According to the blog, Juan Carlos López, editor-in-chief of Nature Medicine, said that it is the journal’s policy on retraction that all authors on a given paper provide signed consent.

“If some authors do not agree to retract, we can run a retraction signed by just a subset of co-authors,” López said. “If the authors do not want to retract, but their home institution wants the study retracted, we would retract the study, stating the rationale behind the decision.”

Spoonful of Medicine was able to contact Zhang, who denied any wrongdoing.

“I must say I’m very disappointed for several reasons. One is that I was never involved in any data fabrication,” Zhang told the blog. “I’m not saying I’m free of any responsibility,” Zhang added. “I’m a senior author. For that I should accept certain responsibility as the corresponding author, but not as currently accused.”

First author Liu told the blog that a drafting error led the figure in question to be wrongly represented. Liu told the blog that “all the data is real, but the data comes from healthy individuals” and that he can repeat the data in question “in any lab, at any time”.

“At that time we had a little bit of rush,” said Liu. “I didn’t realize we should switch the description back to the normal human subjects.”

The article can be found at: Liu X et al. (2013) Crucial role of interleukin-7 in T helper type 17 survival and expansion in autoimmune disease.

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Ian Wilson/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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