Questions About CAR T Study Lead to Nature, NEJM Retractions

Ivan Oransky, MD

February 20, 2019

While clinical benefits with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies have been seen in blood cancers, this approach has not, so far, made an impact in the treatment of solid tumors. Part of the problem has been access.

So "a new strategy to overcome one of the main obstacles in the treatment of brain cancer — access to the tumor," as described in a press release, sounded like step forward.

However, the Nature article reporting this new strategy has now been retracted, along with a review about its potential in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

In the Nature article, published September 5, researchers said that they had "developed a molecule that targets the delivery of T cells to brain cancer" in mouse studies. But within a month, the study had attracted more than two dozen critical comments on PubPeer, a platform for such comments.

On October 25, Nature added an update to the article, saying that "the reliability of data presented in this manuscript has been the subject of criticisms, which we are currently considering." Now, the journal has retracted the article.

According to the retraction notice, "The authors are retracting this paper to correct the scientific literature, due to issues with figure presentation and underlying data. The authors cannot confirm at present the results in the affected figures and thus would wish to retract the paper."

All of the 27 authors agreed with the Nature retraction except for the first author, Heba Samaha, of Children's Cancer Hospital Egypt-57357, who did not respond to a request for comment from Medscape Medical News.

Nabil Ahmed, MD, the last author of the Nature article, referred Medscape Medical News to a spokesperson for the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where he is on faculty.

"The Baylor College of Medicine Committee on Scientific Integrity (COSI) procedures require that allegations of scientific misconduct be reviewed as specified by regulation," Dana Benson, Baylor's director of communications, said by email. "COSI evaluations of allegations of scientific misconduct through the inquiry and investigation processes do take time and these proceedings are strictly confidential."

NEJM Review Retracted

The article had formed the basis of a January 17 review in NEJM by Marion H. Brown, PhD, and Michael L. Dustin, PhD, both of the University of Oxford in England. After Brown and Dustin learned of the upcoming Nature article retraction from Medscape Medical News earlier this week, they asked NEJM to retract their review as well.

The NEJM article was retracted today. The retraction notice states: "Because Nature has retracted its article entitled 'A homing system targets therapeutic T cells to brain cancer,' due to issues with figure presentation and underlying data, we hereby retract our article entitled 'Steering CAR-T cells into solid tumors.' "

Dustin told Medscape Medical News that neither he, Brown, nor NEJM had seen the October update in Nature until after their article had been published. The article earned an editor's note, referring to the Nature update, on January 25.

"Hope it can all be sorted out and some of it will eventually help patients, but for now need to step back and reset expectations on this until further evidence emerges," Dustin said by email.

N Engl J Med. 2019;380:289-291. Full text

Ivan Oransky, MD, is Medscape vice president, editorial, and cofounder of Retraction Watch.

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