QIMR Berghofer takes further action over fabrication of cancer research data

The QIMR Berghofer medical research institute says it is taking further action after an investigation into research misconduct allegations against its former head of immunology in cancer laboratory, Professor Mark Smyth.

In a statement released on 11 January the Brisbane-based institute said it was reviewing clinical trials data and may repay research grants after an independent panel, led by retired Appeal Court Judge Robert Gotterson AO, found Professor Smyth had seriously breached codes relating to the responsible conduct of research and the use of animals in studies.

“The findings against Mark Smyth included fabrication of research data which was used to support grant funding applications and clinical trials. The Institute referred the findings to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission, in line with its legislative obligations,” the institute said.

As previously reported in the limbic, the institute has already commissioned an external review, conducted by former Federal Court Judge the Hon Bruce Lander QC, which is expected to report by mid-2022.

The Institute has outlined four further actions it is taking in relation to the work of Professor Smyth, who resigned in August 2021.

These include notifying clinical trials that have used research data from Professor Smyth, though the institute said there was no indication that participant safety had been compromised.

QIMR Berghofer has also notified research funding bodies and in some cases, repayed or relinquished research grants.

Experiments carried out by Professor Smyth during his employment at the Institute are being reviewed, with the assistance of an independent assessor, to verify data produced.

As well,  a newly created role of General Manager of Research Governance and Funding has been established to implement the new Research Integrity Framework at QIMR Berghofer.

CEO Professor Fabienne Mackay, who received allegations against Mark Smyth just months after she was appointed Director of QIMR Berghofer, said she would “leave no stone unturned to ensure the matter was investigated thoroughly and completely – without fear or favour”.

“These findings are deeply disappointing and I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation so that it never happens again. It is not easy to prove allegations of this nature but we acted decisively, going above and beyond what was required of the Institute,” she said.

“In the preliminary assessment and subsequently in the Panel investigation there was an exhaustive review of the available evidence, including work patterns, schedules, and data over a long period.

“Under its Terms of Reference, the Lander Review will examine the Institute’s research governance frameworks, its leadership and governance structures, and its organisational culture,” she added.

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