The U.S. Department of Justice has reportedly launched a criminal investigation into a manufacturer of an Alzheimer’s drug over allegations that the company fabricated research findings for the drug.
Federal prosecutors’ investigation into Cassava Sciences centers around whether the company defrauded investors, government agencies, or consumers, Reuters reported.
The investigation comes after a bombshell report was published last week in Science Magazine about how key images from one of the most cited research papers on Alzheimer’s disease this century might have been intentionally fabricated, throwing off years and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded research into the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist and physician at Vanderbilt University, stumbled upon the controversial study while investigating an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s called Simufilam, which is manufactured by Cassava Sciences.
Schrag was contacted by an attorney that was investigating the drug on behalf of two prominent neuroscientists who said that some of the research behind the drug was “fraudulent.”
The report in Science Magazine then pivots to how Schrag’s investigation into the drug eventually led him to investigating a 2006 study published in Nature by neuroscientist Sylvain Lesné of the University of Minnesota (UMN) that “underpins a key element of the dominant yet controversial amyloid hypothesis of Alzheimer’s, which holds that [protein amyloid beta] Aβ clumps, known as plaques, in brain tissue are a primary cause of the devastating illness,” Science reported.
Science investigated the study and says it corroborated Schrag’s suspicions about Lesné’s research with the help of leading Alzheimer’s researchers and image analysts. The independent experts alleged that some images they reviewed were “shockingly blatant” examples of image tampering.
The authors “appeared to have composed figures by piecing together parts of photos from different experiments,” Elisabeth Bik, a molecular biologist and well-known forensic image consultant, told the publication. “The obtained experimental results might not have been the desired results, and that data might have been changed to … better fit a hypothesis.”
The report noted that the implication of the suspected fraudulent work means that hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) might have been wasted, and that the entire scientific field could have been searching in the wrong direction for the last 16 years for a cure for Alzheimer’s since thousands of studies were based on the study in question.