Biotech co-founder settles major research misconduct allegations with HHS
In one life, Viravuth Yin is an internationally-recognized expert in regenerative biology who pioneered the use of the zebrafish as a drug screening platform, discovered a potential new regenerative heart drug and spun that discovery into a new biotech startup known as Novo Biosciences, where he now serves as co-founder and CSO.
But in another life, a life that he’s trying to move past with an HHS settlement on Wednesday, Yin is alleged to have committed major research misconduct, including “knowingly, intentionally, and/or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating data” on three published papers and two manuscripts. Those three published papers, two of which were published in iScience, will now be retracted, at Yin’s request, according to the settlement.
The settlement also effectively means that Yin, who was investigated because of his NIH grant funding, does not admit nor deny those findings of research misconduct, and it’s not an admission of liability. But the settlement also means that Yin has agreed to allow a committee of two to three senior faculty members at an academic institution who are familiar with his field of research, but not including his supervisor or collaborators, to provide oversight and guidance to him for two years.
How that stipulation will play out in the real world remains unknown as Yin no longer works at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory where the misconduct allegedly occurred.
It was the research Yin did at MDIBL that allowed him to move over and co-found Novo Biosciences alongside Kevin Strange, who stepped down as president of the MDIBL in July 2018 to work as the other Novo co-founder.
NIH’s grants database notes that Yin was the project leader for one grant worth more than $82,000 on comparative animal models at MDIBL. The database notes, “This research in turn resulted in multiple firsts for the MDIBL including the discovery of three lead small molecules for regenerative medicine applications, six U.S. and international patent applications, one issued U.S. patent and the launch of the spinoff company Novo Biosciences.”
The Maine-based biotech Novo has since received a two-year, $1.5 million research grant from the NIH for the further development of its potential new heart treatment, as well as another $4 million in funds raised for the company’s first human trials.
Whether or not this research misconduct, which HHS said included “reporting research methods and statistics that were not performed” in at least five experimental results, catches up with Novo Biosciences remains to be seen.
Strange told Retraction Watch: “We are fully confident that the studies cited by ORI [Office of Research Integrity] have no relationship to nor do they provide any scientific foundations for our previous and ongoing work. Dr. Yin remains a valuable member of the Novo Biosciences team.”