2nd prof officially linked to Potti probe

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Potti scandal spreads like cancer, with Chancellor
Dzau confirming investigation embraces Dr. Joseph
Nevins, laboratory director.

Dzau concedes earlier probe, finished in January,
was limited, declares there is need for "broader review."

Chancellor talks of investigation of "science,"
with no reference to administrative actions
also being questioned..

DUKE PR hides Dzau announcement. Only medical
faculty, then employees are told
despite pledge of "transparency."

Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr Victor Dzau -- with President Brodhead still silent -- sent an e-mail to the medical faculty on Thursday talking about Duke's "response to allegations regarding Dr. Potti."

That may have been the trigger for Duke's belated action, but Dzau also says Duke's decision to turn the developing scandal over to outside investigators embraces "the science conducted by Drs. Potti and Nevins." For the first time, the university has officially linked the two names.

Loyal Readers know of course that Fact Checker has been reporting that Duke was hiding behind the news media's splash of charges that Potti faked a Rhodes Scholarship, and the status of his co-researcher Nevins was never made clear.

Dr. Joseph Nevins. The Barbara Levine Professor of Breast Cancer Genomics and Director of the Center for Applied Genomics and Technology. He is Potti's rabbi, shepherding his rapid advance to associate professor and high profile.

Nevins' name appears on many grant applications with Potti. A list of authors on Potti's papers reveals Nevins was his partner and unless he never saw primary data or steps in its analysis, he surely must have had suspicions about the errors as they occurred repeatedly.

Complaints about their research surfaced last fall and Duke did an internal review. This is now surrounded by secrecy -- as the Chronicle reported Dzau is even refusing to reveal the members of the internal panel that considered the Nevins-Potti research. Fact Checker is at work on this.

Dzai -- for the first time disclosing limitations -- said that this review "was designed to specifically answer two questions that we believed to be at the heart of the questions about patient safety raised by the outside critics. Given the continued concerns and the demand by external scientists for a comprehensive review that goes well beyond the scope of the previous review, we are convinced that there is the need for a broader review, conducted by a major independent research agency."

The "critics" as Dzau labeled them, were some of the most distinguished people in the genome world, raising concerns beyond patient safety though that was central. They also warned about broken institutional integrity.

Dzau also revealed Duke was going to stick to pure research, not the profit-making sale of its discoveries. "In order to remove any possible appearance of conflict of interest, Duke has decided to permanently divest all equity and potential royalties associated with this science that had been licensed to an outside company. Although there are appropriate and comprehensive conflict of interest management plans in place for inventors, Duke's decision is to completely relieve itself of any perceived conflict or pressure."

It's not known what the value -- or more accurately -- what the potential value could be of capital gains on the growth of companies (equity) and a continuing cut of sales (royalties), but it could be very considerable. Duke like all other institutions has been ramping up its efforts to capitalize on its discoveries.

In this instance, Dzau possibily is talking about a company called ExpressionAnalysis, which Nevins controls. It is paid to provide services for the Nevins-Potti research.

And it's not clear what Dzau means by "this science," whether the phrase embraces just the genome effort of Nevins-Potti, or whether other research projects will be affected as well.

Aside from saying that among factors motivating Duke was "concern for the well being of our patients," there was no specific attention at all paid to 107 or 109 people who are still receiving chemotherapy in response to the "findings" of Nevins and Potti.

A Duke researcher put it this way, anonymously, on the NY Times blog: How many patients with lung cancer suffered unnecessary pneumothoraces (and perhaps death) in order to obtain the tissue Potti needed for his "science." How many of the 107 or 109 patients at Duke getting chemotherapy because of Potti should be receiving another therapy.

The Nevins-Potti research involves two trials for lung cancer, one paid for by a drug maker and one by the American Cancer Society. A third trial, paid for by the Department of Defense, involves breast cancer.

As for spreading the word of Chancellor Dzau's announcements: he sent an e-mail blast to the medical faculty on Thursday. Duke PR waited until Friday afternoon to post it on the employee website "Duke Today." Duke PR made no further distribution to other stakeholders in Duke, nor to the public in a press release.

One of the oldest tricks in PR is to release news you would rather bury on a Friday afternoon in the summer when people are more interested in getting away. Or to not release the news, rather hiding it in a corner of your web-page, giving you cover later on to say the news was available.

Fact Checker has previously documented other PR actions related to this scandal.

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