Science leaders expect criminal charges for researchers involved in fraudulent Alzheimer’s study

In the wake of the bombshell allegations that several Alzheimer’s studies contained fabricated data, several figures in the scientific community have called for criminal penalties to be applied not only to the researchers involved but the publishers as well.

“We expect some of the researchers involved to face criminal charges,” scientist Adrian Heilbut said to the Daily Mail, adding that if the data really is fabricated, that means Alzheimer’s patients have been “treated with an imaginary drug that does nothing.”

Speaking with the Daily Mail, Cardiff University neuroscientist Professor Chris Chambers added that publishers need to be held accountable as well.

“We need to levy fines at academic publishers for every instance of published fraud within their records. Fining them would motivate them to check results before publication,” he said.

He also suggested that publications approve studies before they’re conducted instead of afterward, so that way there’s no incentive to publish studies that have shiny outcomes but are themselves effectively garbage.

“The main reason researchers fake results is because beautiful results are more likely to be published than boring results. We can solve this problem if journals evaluate study plans and then accept papers based on the quality of the plan rather than the sexiness of the results,” he explained.

“Some journals do this, but others fear that publishing science based on quality rather than flashiness will reduce their journal’s newsworthiness. The price for their arrogance is the kind of fraud we see in this case. Until we hold them accountable, it will be the public that suffers the consequences of fraud.”

Of course, whether or not anyone will actually be held accountable remains to be seen.

Richard Smith, a former editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), concurred, warning that fraudulent research is a “major threat to public health” but that the latest case is “shocking but not surprising.”

“He cites research that suggests up to one in five of the estimated two million medical studies published each year could contain invented or plagiarised results, details of patients who never existed and trials that did not actually take place. He adds the problem is ‘well known about’ in science circles, yet there is a reluctance within the establishment to accept the scale of the problem,” according to the Daily Mail.

“Scientific journals make vast amounts of money. If they publish fraudulent work and fail to swiftly put things right, it’s a very serious matter and they need to be held accountable,” he said.

“I would support fines. There also needs to be some sort of global regulator, and criminal prosecutions against those found to have carried out fraudulent research – just like there is with financial fraud.”

The good news is that something is already happening. As previously reported, the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into Cassava Sciences, the drug manufacturer some allegedly fabricated/fraudulent Alzheimer’s research.

“The Justice Department personnel conducting the investigation into Austin, Texas-based Cassava specialize in examining whether companies or individuals have misled or defrauded investors, government agencies or consumers,” Reuters reported last week, citing insider sources.

“The sources did not provide details of the focus of the probe and whether the department was looking into any specific individuals. As in any Justice Department investigation, this one could lead to criminal charges or be closed without any charges being brought.”

All this comes following the bombshell reveal earlier this month from Vanderbilt University neuroscientist neuroscientist and physician Matthew Schrag that there are certain inexplicable peculiarities in the data contained in a study Cassava Sciences had conducted vis-a-vis its experimental Alzheimer’s drug, Simufilam.

The company has for its part denied any wrongdoing.

“No government agency has informed us that it has found supporting evidence of research misconduct or any other wrongdoing and for good reason ― there is no supporting evidence for allegations of research misconduct,” Cassava Sciences president and CEO Remi Barbier said to Reuters.

However, this isn’t the company’s first rodeo regarding its Alzheimer’s study.

“The company already was facing scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and investors after two physicians from outside Cassava last year made allegations of data manipulation and misrepresentation involving research underpinning the company’s Alzheimer’s drug, called simufilam,” according to Reuters.

At the time, Cassava Sciences called the allegations “false and misleading.” Yet a year later, the allegations have resurfaced, this time from another physician.

In addition to uncovering allegedly fraudulent fraudulent data in Cassava’s study, Schrag also found fraudlent data in “one of the most cited Alzheimer’s studies of this century and numerous related experiments,” according to Science magazine.

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