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Audit team finds further faults with doctor's results

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 12 May 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1143
  1. Pat Sidley
  1. Johannesburg

    Disgraced South African scientist and practising oncologist Werner Bezwoda faces an uncertain future after a scientific audit team found further serious irregularities in his work on controversial high dose chemotherapy used in breast cancer.

    Dr Bezwoda lost his post at the University of the Witwatersrand after some of the research he presented in the United States in 1999 proved to have been falsified (BMJ 2000;320:398). The audit team was sent to South Africa by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, at the request of Witwatersrand University, to look into the research and report on its findings, which showed further deception dating back to his original 1995 research in the same field.

    The team's findings have been published on the website of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (, prompting a highly unusual retraction by the journal of the information it ran in the 1995 article authored by Dr Bezwoda.

    The American Society of Clinical Oncology has warned women who may be contemplating chemotherapy similar to that proposed by Dr Bezwoda to ensure that they have the treatment only in a high quality clinical trial. It has also suggested to health insurers that payment should be made for policy holders only if they undergo such treatment in clinical trials.

    The audit team searched through more than 15 000 sets of medical records from two Johannesburg hospitals. Dr Bezwoda's claims were compared with the minutes of the University of the Witwatersrand's Committee for Research on Human Subjects “to verify review and approval.” Ninety patients were reported on originally by Dr Bezwoda. The records for only 61 of the 90 could be found.

    “Of the 61, only 27 had sufficient records to verify eligibility for the trial by the published criteria,” the audit report stated. “Of these 27, 18 did not meet one or more eligibility criteria. Only 25 patients appeared to have received their assigned therapy temporally associated with their enrolment date, and all but three of these 25 received HDC [high dose chemotherapy].

    “The treatment details of individual patients were at great variance from the published data. Nine other trials reported by Bezwoda were not reviewed or approved by the appropriate institutional committee despite statements to the contrary in the publications.”

    The audit team reached the conclusion that the data in the report were not verifiable and that nine other publications “coauthored by the principal investigator contain at least one major untrue statement.”

    Dr Bezwoda was sacked by the university last year (BMJ 2000;320:732) but is in the process of legal action against the university. Asked for comment on the latest information, Dr Bezwoda only said: “The issue is with my attorney. That's all I have to say.”

    At the time of the original disclosures last year, press reports stated that many of his subjects were indigent black women. The audit team reported that several subjects do not seem to have given properly informed consent.

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