With start of semester, Chronicle does major article on Potti. Fact Checker adds perspective

Search terms: Duke University, Emil Potti

✔✔Fact Checker here.

This article is fine. Fact Checker wants to add some perspective.

Duke University had to be backed into a corner and hammered over the head to institute the first review of Potti last winter. Every Dukie is indebted to the scientists at MD Anderson for their long, intrepid fight challenging Duke. Our honesty, our integrity is at stake.

The first review was internal -- though three outside consultants were hired because of very technical scientific issues. Here's an update: those consultants -- which the Chronicle's sources say supported Potti -- have now explained that Duke limited their inquiry to two questions while others were on the table. They said Duke took their findings and warped them in such a way as to emphasize what supported Potti, and to ignore what challenged him.

This internal review -- which Duke won't let you read, although Fact Checker has read it -- did not involve Potti alone -- but named three people. That's important because Potti is bearing the brunt of this because of his credentials "issues," as Duke likes to say, or lies as Fact Checker reports. The news media can more easily understand a faked Rhodes Scholarship -- than the intricacies of cancer research.

One of the others involved is above Potti in the pecking order at the University: Dr Joseph Nevins, Barbara Levine University Professor of Breast Cancer Genomics and Director of Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. A 2007 Ph.D. recipient was also involved, William T Barry.

Deans Cuffe and Kornbluth are quoted in the Chronicle article. Their statements must be viewed in this context: having signed off on the first Potti report with its rosy conclusions about his research, they would be very very shaken professionally and embarrassed personally if the new external review proves his science is a fraud. They have much at stake.

Neither should be speaking at this time for Duke University. Period.

✔Duke did not just happen to become interested in a second science review -- this time to be fully conducted externally, still being arranged. Duke had to be badgered:

-- taking more wilting fire from brave scientists at M D Anderson who stood up to Duke's first report.

-- Next came 15 European co-authors of a Potti publication in a medical journals, who retracted their work.

-- Next came the distinguished British journal Lancet Cancer which published an un-heard of alert about one of its Potti articles, saying it was investigating whether to retract it.

-- And lastly, the "July 19 letter of concern signed by 33 other statisticians" spoken of so benignly in the Chronicle just happened to be from a Who's Who of the world's genome researchers -- specifically condemning the use of Potti science on patients who had enrolled in his human experiments before Duke's

Duke did NOTHING in response to all this. It wasn't until the scandal over Potti's resume broke in The Cancer Letter, that our administrators caved.

Please, let's stop using the words "clinical trials." These are experiments on human beings. Desperately ill people who came to Duke for help, and what they got is Potti as their doctor and fraud as their medicine.

With the authority that FC just outlined all aligned against Potti, there are substantial questions of how he slipped through the cracks, or worse, how come his science received any support at all on this campus. Loyal Readers, make no mistake about it: Brodhead, Dzau, Cuffe and Kornbluth among others are also on trial. As the Cancer Letter has stated, this was once about bum science, it is now also about administrators who enabled it.

✔Loyal Dukies, Fact Checker would also like to point out two conflicts of interest, particularly with respect to Cuffe and Kornbluth.

Both were appointed by the Dean of the Medical School Nancy Andrews after she arrived from Harvard 3 years ago. They still report to her.

But Andrews husband, Bernard Mathey-Prevot, Ph.D., a noted cancer researcher who left the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to accompany his wife, now works at Duke. He co-authored a major medical journal article with Potti and Nevins, and is a candidate to face review himself as this scandal metathesizes.

We cannot have critical roles in these investigations played by people who are beholden to the Medical Dean, when her husband is in the spotlight. Period. Such a conflict shakes our faith.

There's more. Potti and Duke stand to make millions if his discovery proves to be honest. $$$$ Potti basically has created a screening test using DNA and RNA which will reveal -- if it works -- precisely how to treat a breast or lung tumor; Duke plans to license this -- with as many as 700,000 people a year taking the test and chocking over fees that include handsome royalties.

(The university has a similar stake in the unrelated enzyme work of another scientist under review, Homme Hellinga, James B Duke Professor of Biochemistry)

While Chancellor Dzau announced in late July that Duke is divesting itself from Potti's discoveries -- selling its stake in other words -- this is quite like locking the barn door after the horse galloped away.

Fact Checker is working on a comprehensive conflict of interest report on these scandals.

No I am not done yet. Now, transparency.

✔Fact Checker doesn't know what President Brodhead, Chancellor Dzau, Provost Lange and Vice President for PR Schoenfeld were doing at 7:30 last Thursday evening. But I hope they watched the live broadcast of a news conference on the Carolina campus, courtesy of the WRAL-TV website.

And I hoped the stark contrast with their own handling of the Potti scandal occurred to them.

You could see the pain in the faces of UNC's football coach, their athletic director, their chancellor. Bad enough that they have been coping with an explosive situation involving agents tampering with players, probably two players, now they face academic fraud that apparently embraces as many as 12 more. Plus one of 25 team tutors.

The athletic director swallowed and hesitated and looked like he might begin to tear when he answered a question by saying "We are looking into improprieties that existed outside the classroom."

"Outside the classroom." Was that just his way of expressing academic fraud, or did he mean sex, which is what these words have meant before? No elaboration.

The coach looked down and pursed his lips when he confirmed the unidentified female tutor had also been hired by his family to help his son Drew. "To be honest with you, I think we're really surprised and possibly disappointed, but there has been no revelation as to exactly the extent or what has actually transpired."

The chancellor: "Our hope is that the scope of this is limited.”

The lesson for Brodhead and his team is clear.

Officials at the University of North Carolina faced a crisis. They immediately reported what they knew to the NCAA and sought permission to speak out.

The NCAA responded yes, and instructed that Trustees be informed forthwith.

UNC's officials stood on their campus, affirmed Carolina's historical values, and pledged their personal integrity to the process of rooting out cheating no matter how many starters tumbled from a team ranked 18 in the AP pre-season poll. You could see the strength of their determination.

The UNC officials listed three names: Broome, Evans, Blanchard to head an investigation.

Yes they named the investigators, opening the door rather than sealing it like Brodhead and his team. As best the officials were able, they gave us a timetable. They took questions from reporters, many questions.

And the impact was clear: even Fact Checker as a skeptical, cynical Dukie has confidence in the investigation. Its transparency, the accountability of leaders in Chapel Hill. The coach, the athletic director, the chancellor, already tall, grew in stature. Fact Checker trusts the job they will do.

Loyal Readers, compare all this, please, with Brodhead, Dzau, Lange and Schoenfeld in the Potti scandal.

To Fact Checker's knowledge, and that is considerable, our President, our Chancellor, our Provost, our mouthpiece have never stood publicly before us, taken questions, and given us the kind of assurance only eye-to-eye contact can.

Brodhead did write a cursory reply to the Chronicle when it e-mailed him as the scandal first broke -- before we knew any of its dimensions.

And as Brodhead sat down behind closed doors with the editors at the Herald-Sun ten days ago for a routine interview about the coming school year, he was asked about the scandal. His answer was an embarrassment.

He said we should withhold judgment, for some things are true, some are false, and then there is an "intermediate explanation." So much for the honor code.

Fellow Dukies, those are the mushy words of an English professor, not a mighty declaration of principle that we need from the leader of a world-class university.

✔Aside from Fact Checker posts, those are words you have never seen in the Chronicle. "Intermediate explanation." scandal.

There are three current investigations. One is done, the credentails. Dzau, Lange pledged transparency. We got a faceless committee -- no one knows who sat on it -- behind doors, operating with unknown procedures, finding lies in the resume that are not specified, and then they tell us there are sanctions for now, but they won't tell us what!!!

✔Dzau, normally far more responsive to inquiries than Brodhead, has also circled his wagons. He knows the scandal has spread beyond Potti's fake Rhodes Scholarship, beyond one of his stars in the emerging field of translational medicine, beyond shaky, shifty science from at least three Duke researchers. In plain English, his job is on the line.

Dzau hears the murmurs about his own distractions as a director of four major corporations, monthly meetings in distant cities, with a $1 million a year in fees. Not to mention his being scientific adviser to other major corporations.

And Dzau must realize now that it was a grievous mistake to assign Dean Sandy Williams, since departed for a lab in San Francisco, to spend half-time at Duke Medical School and half-time at our money-making medical school venture in Singapore. A mole tells FC that Williams fought this.

✔And Schoenfeld.

Unlike the PR man at UNC who welcomed questions, he shamefully does not even acknowledge e-mail, right in the face of Dzau and the Provost who have personally pledged "transparency." I repeat, making mockery of the personal pledge of Dzau and Lange, as well as the institutional commitment to transparency.

Schoenfeld simply ignores people who do not warble his tune. Anyone who challenges Brodhead is out, the flow of information to them throttled.

Schoenfeld has even gone mum on questions unrelated to Potti. For example an explanation of what it means for a faculty member to be placed on "administrative leave," which is
double-talk for being suspended. With pay.

✔ Finally, I want to return to the human element: While Duke has stopped new patients from being recruited for the HUMAN EXPERIMENTS that Potti was conducting, 109 people were enrolled earlier and are still receiving treatment for breast and lung cancer according to Potti protocols. The Chronicle has now mentioned them, buried in today's article, for the first time.

109 people who came to this university in desperation, who were given false hope based upon faked credentials and soon to be revealed fraudulent research, who gave up the option of other therapies, who are now confronted with science that everyone -- everyone -- outside the boundaries of the Duke campus is saying is bunk. And many people inside too.


These cancer patients relied on Duke, its reputation, its integrity, its honor. What happened to them should sear the conscience of every Dukie. Where is the outrage!

Mr. Brodhead, has you or Dzau personally gone to these patients or have your lawyers muzzled you lest you give away a point or two of their malpractice defense, leaving the patients to figure it out for themselves?

Mr. Brodhead, Dr Dzau have you had outside doctors examine the patients to see if they have any options left? Today we are only given vague assurances in the Chronicle concluding that these people should continue with their bogus Potti treatments.

Remember please that the Who's Who in genome science said just the opposite.

✔And so late last Friday, after the focus became the weekend getaway, Duke employed the cheapest trick in PR and announced there were "substantial" "issues" with Potti's resume.

Yes a press release. In Schoenfeld's name, which seemed odd since it was Lange's investigation. Anyone who could reach Schoenfeld was told no questions would be answred.

The Chronicle did sneak a question in to Lange. Since he found "issues of substantial concern," what did this say for Duke's process of vetting its employees?

Ha. You have a better chance of rolling a snowball thru hell than getting an answer out of Lange.

Did Duke put this press release on its home page. No. Did Duke put it on the home page of its PR office. No.

The PR page has a box displaying six headlines on news releases. Was it there? No. If you were fortunate enough to click the tiny words "more releases," that's where you found the Potti announcement buried.

Yes it was listed as an "update," not a bombshell.

Remember please, Loyal Readers, the press release said "issues." Plural. Not one lie. Issues. Substantial.

What the hell do you have to do to get fired at Duke?

✔After the Herald-Sun, Brodhead's media tour moved from the Herald-Sun to the News and Observer. A Raleigh reporter asked him how long he would remain President at Duke, and while the question was probably benign, it is indicative of the way more and more stakeholders in this university are thinking.

How long? Not surprisingly Brodhead waffled an answer.

✔Thank you for reading Fact Checker.

Footnote: the Journal of Clinical Oncology is pleased to announce the publication in its new issue of a paper by Potti and co-authors, applying his science to ovarian cancer.

Thank you for reading all of Fact Checker!

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