News

Leading pancreatic cancer researcher is struck off for fabricating data

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4352 (Published 08 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4352
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. The BMJ

A leading researcher into innovative treatments for pancreatic cancer has been struck off the UK medical register for “gross and clear fabrication of research data.”

Thorsten Hagemann, who worked at Bart’s Cancer Institute in London, was found guilty of 24 instances of misleading and dishonest conduct between 2012 and 2014.

He was found to have falsified data in grant applications to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and Cancer Research UK, in a paper published in Nature,1 in another paper which was submitted to Nature Medicine but rejected, and in a presentation to Cancer Research Technology.

Hagemann, who qualified in Germany in 1999, progressed rapidly in his career at Bart’s, where he was both a researcher and a clinician treating patients with pancreatic cancer. He was appointed a professor in 2013 after gaining wide experience of overseeing research projects involving several assistants.

A medical practitioners’ tribunal, sitting in Manchester, heard that he was one of very few academic clinicians conducting research into treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Concerns about his work began to surface between 2012 and 2013 when one of his junior colleagues raised questions about the source of data he had produced. This led to an internal investigation relating to two projects.

He initially denied wrongdoing, but resigned with immediate effect when he was presented with evidence of scientific misconduct, including the falsification of an email exchange.

The tribunal heard that when he was asked if there was anything else the institute should know about, he replied, “No, that’s all; there is nothing else I can think of.” But a comprehensive investigation found a further six allegations of scientific misconduct.

In one study he produced results which were fabricated “in all probability because the experiment did not in fact take place,” the tribunal concluded.

In the Nature paper, he was found to have included fabricated figures and made dishonest statements. The particular mice that he wrote about had not been bred at the time and he must have known this, the tribunal found.

In the rejected Nature Medicine paper he “falsified results to show that the Gilead drug GS-9820 was more effective than it really was,” said the tribunal chairman, Richard Davies.

Davies said that the tribunal considered that Hagemann’s behaviour “represented a pattern of conduct featuring a propensity to fabricate data, cover up what he had done, and then to act with an eye to self-preservation.” Because of this, the tribunal concluded that he was “highly likely” to repeat his conduct.

Hagemann took no part in the tribunal proceedings and was not represented. Davies said that Hagemann had shown “callous disregard for the implications of his actions on his PhD and postdoctoral students, on his colleagues, on the institute, and for patients.” In presentations using his fabricated data, Hagemann had “claimed that the results indicated a ‘cure.’”

In the field of pancreatic cancer, where the prognosis was generally unfavourable, “any allegation relating to the fabrication of research data (particularly where it could excite false hopes for treatment) must generally provide grounds for the most profound public concern and opprobrium,” said Davies.

Immodulon Therapeutics, a bio pharmaceutical company, announced in October 2015 that Hagemann had been appointed as its medical director.

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