Altman, Lawrence K. "Scientist Ousted From Cancer Study Declines to Testify to House Panel,"

 

Altman, Lawrence K. "Scientist Ousted From Cancer Study Declines to Testify to House Panel,"
New York Times, 12 April 1994, pp. C1, C3.

Dr. Bernard Fisher, University of Pittsburgh, will not appear before John Dingell's subcommittee
on Wednesday, 13 April. Lawyers for the University of Pittsburgh asked the committee to excuse
the 75-year-old because of his age and the distress and physical strain of testifying. Staff
members of the committee have excused Dr. Fisher now but "might call him in the future."

This comes as a surprise since Dr. Fisher had refused all requests for interviews saying he would
be testifying before the Dingell committee.

There are several questions Congress wants answered: Is cheating on clinical trials as rare as
scientists have maintained? How could someone as naive as Roger Poisson come to be a
principal investigator of a major study? How did Poisson get through peer review? What criteria
are used to select principal investigators at hospitals which participate in these studies? Why did
NCI wait until December 1992 to require independent monitoring for studies - 13 years after the
NIH made a recommendation for such review? Why did Dr. Fisher continuing to submit papers
containing Poisson's flawed data well after he knew of the fudging?

"Mr Dingell and other members of Congress have long been upset by what they perceive as the
lenient way that scientific leaders and the National Institutes of Health have handled fraud and
misconduct. And now, in the case of Dr. Fisher, thought of as a star cancer researcher, they
confront the possibility his fall will further erode public trust in medical research."

"Dr. Thomas Detre, senior vice chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and thus Dr. Fisher's
ultimate boss, said in an interview that he suspected Dr. Poisson's type of cheating ‘happens
perhaps more frequently than we are aware of, when physicians for whatever reason want to
make their patients eligible for a study, feeling that the disease is life-threatening and they could
give them a unique chance.' He added that he thought the researchers had no intention of trying
to alter the outcome of the study."

"Dr. Detre pointed out an inherent potential conflict of interest in the way clinical trials are
carried out. In order to arrive at statistically meaningful results in clinical trials, large numbers of
patients are needed. Organizers of such studies need investigators like Dr. Poisson with large
practices to recruit the patients. Most participating doctors take on the added work of a study
because of the prestige of being involved in it.

"For the organizer, the line between encouraging participants to adhere to regulations and
insuring that they do so is a fine one, Dr. Detre said, with organizers running the risk of
becoming so intrusive that the participating doctors drop out of the study. He added, ‘Perhaps we
behave far more tactfully than would be indicated.'

"Many scientific leaders oppose random audits to check on the quality of an investigator's data in
research other than clinical trials, contending that such an intrusive move would destroy trust and
hamper scientific progress.

"But the time may have come when that step is necessary, Dr. Detre said, adding that studies are
needed to determine how often misconduct occurs and whether spot checks should be done, what
they would cost and who would pay."