Cancer immunotherapy researcher under investigation

An Australian research leader in cancer immunotherapy has been referred to Queensland’s corruption watchdog after an investigation by the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute found he had seriously breached research conduct codes.

Professor Mark Smyth, a research immunologist who is one of Australia’s most highly cited oncology researchers,  resigned from QIMR Berghofer in August 2021 and his case has now been referred to the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission.

In a statement, QIMR Berghofer said it had commissioned an independent external investigation after a number of complaints relating to the research conduct of Professor Smyth. The institute said it followed the process set out in the NHMRC and ARC Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

After a preliminary investigation it appointed an external independent Investigation Panel comprising three eminent scientists and chaired by retired Appeal Court Judge Robert Gotterson.

“The Investigation Panel found that Professor Smyth seriously breached Codes relating to responsible research conduct. In accordance with procedural fairness, Professor Smyth will be given the opportunity to review the investigation process,” it said.

“QIMR Berghofer has referred the findings to the Crime and Corruption Commission in accordance with its legislative obligations. QIMR Berghofer has also organised for an independent review into a broad range of issues arising out of the Panel Report.”

According to his biography, Professor Smyth gained a PhD in immunology at the University of Melbourne and rose to hold senior scientist positions at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre after doing postdoctoral work in the US.

He moved to Queensland in 2013 to take up a position as head of the Immunology in Cancer and Infection Laboratory with QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. His research interests have included cancer immune surveillance, defined immune-mediated dormancy of cancer, and the role of host immunity in chemotherapy and targeted therapy responses. More recently, he has provided new means of classifying natural killer cell (NK) subtypes and three new targets for cancer immunotherapy.

However in 2015 a paper on multiple myeloma surveillance for which he was co-author was the subject of a correction in relation to the way data was presented.

QIMR Director and CEO, Professor Fabienne Mackay said the investigation findings were “deeply disappointing” but she believed the Institute would emerge from this incident with the most stringent integrity protocols in the country.

“QIMR Berghofer is introducing a new robust research integrity framework under which all staff will be expected to operate, in consultation with leading research integrity experts. “Our researchers and community deserve only the highest standards and that is what we are going to deliver,” she said.

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