Federal investigators are now digging into the financial records of a Massachusetts anesthesiologist and former head of the acute pain unit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Dr. Scott Reuben allegedly distorted the results in several studies of painkillers developed by leading pharmaceutical companies. Federal investigators are keen to discover just how much Reuben profited from manufacturing favorable data on painkillers developed by Pfizer, Wyeth and Merck, companies that funded his research. Reuben, who was, until recently, also a professor at Tufts University, is accused of faking data cited in at least 21 anesthesiology studies as far back as 1996, reports The Wall Street Journal. Baystate Medical Center, which is not a target of the U.S. attorney's investigation, fired Reuben last month. Still, investigators served Baystate with a subpoena for financial records relating to Reuben's research, and related grants.
In a statement, Merck said it "was not aware of any issues with Dr. Reuben's papers, or the data underlying them, until very recently." Pfizer said its support for Reuben's research was based on the fact that "he worked for a credible academic medical center and appeared to be a reputable investigator." Wyeth said it gave Reuben $10,000 in research grants between 2001 and 2003.
"When you look at Scott's output over the last 15 years, he never had a negative study," said one colleague, who spoke with Anesthesiology News on the condition of anonymity. "In fact, they were all very robust results-where others had failed to show much difference. I just don't understand why anyone would do this or how anyone could pull this off for so long."
According to Josephine Johnston, an attorney specializing in research integrity at the Hastings Center, Garrison, NY, the scope of the Reuben fraud is enormous. "It's usually just one article, not a body of work," Johnston said.
She added that she was surprised that problems with Reuben's research went undetected among peer reviewers. However, "the peer review system can only do so much," she said. "Trust is a major component of the academic world. It's backed up by the implication that your reputation will be destroyed if you violate that trust."
Reuben had been considered a pioneer in multimodal analgesia research, having published and presented data that multimodal analgesia could significantly improve long-term results for patients.