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Deception at Duke: Fraud in cancer care?

Were some cancer patients at Duke University given experimental treatments based on fabricated data? Scott Pelley reports.

Nevins: I didn't feel it ever got to that point. I felt that we had addressed the issues that had been raised.

But that changed when researchers here at the National Cancer Institute said they too were having trouble with the data. Duke suspended the enrollment of patients and asked an outside review committee to analyze Dr. Potti's discovery. After three months, the review committee concluded that Dr. Potti was right.

Baggerly: My immediate reaction was an expletive, which I will not repeat here.

Coombes: We'd gone through the usual channels. We'd written letters to journals. We'd written the article. We'd succeeded in getting the trial suspended, and somebody investigated it. We'd done everything we could.

Duke restarted the clinical trials. And that's when Juliet and Walter Jacobs sat down for their first meeting with Dr. Potti.

[Walter Jacobs, audio recording: I'm recording this with your permission.

Potti: Absolutely. That's a good thing 'cause you're gonna miss a lot.]

The Jacobs were told, based on the research, that the chances of finding the right drug were approximately 80 percent. Walter Jacobs says no one mentioned that the clinical trial had been suspended because of so many questions.

[Potti: I will help you. Trust me.]

Many trusted because Dr. Potti's work had been vindicated. But there was just one more thing - discovered, not by a scientist, but by Paul Goldberg, the editor of a small independent newsletter called "The Cancer Letter." Goldberg got a tip from a confidential source: check Dr. Potti's Rhodes scholarship. It was right there on his applications for federal grants. Trouble was it wasn't true.

Pelley: You asked him about it?

Nevins: Certainly I asked him about it.

Pelley: What did he say?

Nevins: He said that while it wasn't the Rhodes scholar as we know the Rhodes scholar, it was a fellowship from Australia from a group of Rhodes scholars in Australia. So, a stretch of the truth.

Pelley: Was that the moment when you realized?

Nevins: Amazingly, I was still hanging on to the notion of "there must be a good explanation here." This was--

Pelley: Why were you deluding yourself at that point in time? What is it that you want to believe?

Nevins: I want to believe that somebody that I had trusted, that was a colleague for the last four, five years, someone that I viewed as a friend, was who I thought they were. And then you're faced with the reality of you've been deceived.

Fearing that reality, Joseph Nevins, whose own reputation was at stake, reviewed the original data which had justified the clinical trials for 112 patients. Dr. Nevins discovered that when the underlying data disproved Dr. Potti's theory, the data were changed.

Nevins: It became clear that there was no explanation other than there was a manipulation. A manipulation of the data, a manipulation of somebody's credentials and a manipulation of a lot of people's trust.

Pelley: Manipulated data? These were not errors?

Nevins: That's correct, it simply couldn't be random. It simply couldn't be inadvertent. It had to have been based on a desire to make something work.