In a lecture at Fox Chase Cancer Center, noted breast cancer researcher Bernard Fisher proclaimed his triumph against agencies that had accused him of scientific misconduct in his directorship of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP). Fisher had been accused of scientific misconduct in 1994 and demoted during a tamoxifen (Nolvadex) chemoprevention trial. Fisher told the capacity crowd at Fox Chase, What happened to me can happen to any scientist or any academician in this country.
The Fox Chase appearance marked a triumphal return for Fisher, who at times received vigorous applause from the more than 200 researchers and clinicians in attendance at the day-long symposium entitled, Toward 2000: The Clinical Spectrum of Breast Cancer.
Fisher, now 78, had been director of the NSABP since 1967. The NSABP adjuvant therapy study helped change breast cancer treatment when it demonstrated that lumpectomy, combined with subsequent radiation therapy, was as effective in treating early stages of the disease as radical mastectomy. But in 1993, during the trial of tamoxifen as a prophylactic agent against breast cancer, the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) learned that a Montreal physician, Roger Poisson, had allowed several women into his section of the study who did not meet its criteria. Although the bogus data were included in the study, Fisher successfully demonstrated that the essential conclusion was unaffected.
Nevertheless, the controversy continued, with allegations surfacing of suppressed toxicity data and acrimonious congressional hearings. After charges of misconduct and fraud were leveled at Fisher, the National Cancer Institute asked the University of Pittsburgh to remove him as director of the study, which it did in March 1994, although he did stay on as scientific director.
In March 1997, the ORI finally cleared Fisher of all misconduct charges. And then in August, it was revealed that he had settled with the University of Pittsburgh for $2.75 million, with the National Cancer Institute paying out an additional $300,000 toward his legal fees.
Ive fought back and seen my vindication in my lifetime, Fisher declared. The real tragedy, though, was the damage done to the tamoxifen trial, which was halted in 1994 but resumed in 1995. The harm that was done there, I dont think well ever recover, he said. However, the trial has been completed, and release of the first results is imminent