Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fortune says Hwang: "the biggest case of scientific fraud in history"

Cynthia Fox of Fortune analyzed the fraud of Hwang Woo Suk in the area of embryonic stem cells: A conspiracy involving at least 17 people had allegedly gone on for nearly three years, making it, by number of active fabricators, the biggest case of scientific fraud in history.

Fox asked: How did such a gargantuan fraud go undetected for so long? In part, the answer is Korea itself. Interviews with co-conspirators, stem-cell scientists and Korea watchers suggest that government, media and business are uncomfortably entwined. The President's science advisor was a Hwang co-author. Hwang's former lawyer headed a government committee investigating him. (Both resigned their posts.) And Korea's ethics laws were made as stem-cell research progressed, not before.

Of the first paper in Science, Fox wrote: Hwang says he believed his team created the first cloned human embryonic stem cells early in 2003. But when one of his underlings, Kim Sun-jong, couldn't produce any DNA from the cells, the fraud allegedly began. Instead of starting over, according to the prosecutor's report, Hwang told another researcher to get DNA from two adult cells belonging to their "cloned" person, then send the DNA for testing to a friend of a colleague so it could be passed off as an adult and its cloned stem cell. (It's hard to tell just by looking at DNA.)

Fox has an interesting take on the outcome: History's worst case of scientific fraud has had unanticipated consequences. It shook scientists, especially the many who had sought to collaborate with Hwang. And it prompted Science to consider new rules for reviewing papers. [IPBiz: an oblique reference to the report by John I. Brauman.]

But far from discrediting the field of stem-cell research, the scandal has juiced up the race for cloning patents and helped make California the vortex of research in the area. Ron Green, advisor to Advanced Cell Technology, a U.S. stem-cell company, says that it has "given people a glimpse of what might be possible." It has also pushed businesses like Advanced Cell Technology to find less controversial alternatives to cloning. [IPBiz: an oblique reference to ACT's controversial disclosure earlier in 2006.]

Fox did not refer to any conclusions from 88 JPTOS 239 (March 2006).


acsblog notes:

A report by the General Accounting Office concludes that current patent law discourages drug companies from developing new drugs by allowing them to make excessive profits through minor changes to existing pharmaceuticals. While pharmaceutical research and development expenses have increased by 147% since 1993, applications for approval of "new molecular entity" (NME) drugs, or drugs which differ significantly from others already on the market, have risen only 7%. According to the report, the majority of newly developed medicines are so-called "me-too" drugs, which are substantially similar to existing drugs, are less risky than NMEs drugs to develop, and which "offer little in the way of therapeutic breakthroughs."

(..) One commenter noted:

People are foolish to buy a drug merely because they've seen a woman on TV, walking a dog through a field of wheat, allergy-free. Can we please concentrate on fixing the (many, actual) problems with IP law, rather than using this as a platform for attacking an industry we don't like? [IPBiz: and maybe stop talking about 97% patent grant rates?]

[IPBiz post 2300]


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