Duke Sued Over Cancer Trials

A lawsuit filed in North Carolina’s Durham County Superior Court accuses Duke University, Duke University Heath System and five doctors of exposing patients to unnecessary chemotherapy during fraudulent clinical trials.

The trials, which began in 2007 and 2008, were based on work by Dr. Anil Potti — a former Duke cancer researcher who claimed to have developed a test that could predict which lung cancer patients would benefit from chemotherapy.

The trials were temporarily halted in 2009 when other researchers couldn’t replicate Potti’s results. But the trials resumed after an internal investigation. The lawsuit alleges the findings were withheld.

In 2010, it was discovered that Potti had falsely claimed he was a Rhodes Scholar on his resume and on a grant application. He resigned from Duke. And medical journals including Nature Medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet Oncology pulled his work. The clinical trials were also stopped.

The 90-page lawsuit alleges that Duke ignored warnings about flaws in Potti’s research and even tried to cover them up. The lawsuit  makes two dozen claims, which range from to negligence to fraud.

“Duke conducted clinical trials on cancer patients that should never have occurred. The trials were based on bad science,” plaintiff attorney Thomas Henson told ABC11. “Researchers across the country had been telling Duke and warning Duke about the bad science.”

Of eight patients named as plaintiffs, only two are alive today. One of the lawsuit claims, “loss of chance,” suggests patients who participated in Potti’s trials missed out on other treatment opportunities.

Duke spokeswoman Sarah Avery told ABC11 that  the university was actively investigating Potti’s research and possible misconduct.

In the meantime, ABC11 reports that Potti is still practicing medicine at the Coastal Cancer Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C.