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Judge orders Duke to release emails in lawsuit over bogus cancer research

Posted January 29, 2015

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— A judge on Thursday ordered Duke University Health System officials to turn over emails regarding clinical trials linked to a discredited former researcher to a third-party for inspection.

Several patients and their families sued Duke Health, Duke University and affiliated physicians more than three years ago, alleging that officials tried to cover up questions about the research and performed unnecessary chemotherapy on people in hopes of patenting and spinning off a cancer-screening test.

Duke halted work on the clinical trial in 2010 after learning that Dr. Anil Potti exaggerated his credentials, including claiming that he was a Rhodes scholar. Potti, who later resigned, claimed he had discovered how to match a patient's tumor to the best chemotherapy drug.

The lawsuit alleges that researchers raised questions about Potti's research as far back as 2006, but Duke still enrolled patients in three clinical trials. Once details of the faulty research became public and the American Cancer Society stopped paying Duke on a grant, the university tried to squelch questions about the research and minimized the patient concerns, according to the lawsuit.

Two published papers based on Potti's research were retracted after a collaborator said the results of his work couldn't be reproduced.

Thomas Henson, an attorney for seven of the patients, argued Thursday that Duke hasn't handed over all relevant documents in the case, citing an email from May 2008 from Duke associate research professor Holly Dressman to Joseph Nevins, Potti's research partner. In the email, Dressman tells Nevins she's concerned about differences she's finding in data, saying, "I get awful predictions."

Henson told Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin that Duke never gave Dressman's email to the plaintiffs during the discovery phase of the case, and he said he believes there could be other documents he and his clients need to see.

Duke lawyers said they have already released thousands of documents leading up to the trial and that any emails that haven't been handed over either aren't directly related to the case or are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Ervin said an independent reviewer would look over various documents and decide if more should be turned over.

No trial date has been set.

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  • nicholecarpenterisback2 Jan 29, 2015

    Here's a novel idea. Do a background check. Verify credentials. Maybe then you could save millions of dollars.