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QIMR Berghofer takes action over former employee misconduct findings

Leading medical research institute QIMR Berghofer has commenced a rigorous independent investigation into a broad range of issues resulting from research misconduct findings against former employee Professor Mark Smyth.

The independent review, conducted by former Federal Court Judge and inaugural Independent Commissioner Against Corruption in South Australia, the Hon Bruce Lander QC, commenced before Christmas and is expected to report by mid-2022.

Under its Terms of Reference, the Lander Review will examine the Institute’s research governance frameworks, its leadership and governance structures, and its organisational culture.

The Lander Review is in response to recommendations from an earlier independent Panel, led by retired Appeal Court Judge Robert Gotterson AO, commissioned by QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO Professor Fabienne Mackay, which found Professor Smyth had seriously breached Codes relating to the responsible conduct of research and the use of animals in research.

The findings against Mark Smyth included fabrication of research data which was used to support grant funding applications and clinical trials. The Institute referred the findings to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission, in line with its legislative obligations.

QIMR Berghofer Council Chairman Professor Arun Sharma said a rigorous and transparent response to the Panel’s findings and recommendations is the Council’s highest priority, and would be a catalyst for comprehensive new research integrity and cultural processes.

“We are committed to identifying and correcting the activities which led to research misconduct not being identified and prevented at an earlier stage,” Professor Sharma said.

“Council has already signed off on a robust new Research Integrity Framework which will seek to ensure QIMR Berghofer has the most stringent integrity protocols in the country and address any shortcoming on behalf of the Institute in relation to these unacceptable breaches.”

The Institute has taken further decisive action in relation to this issue, including:

  • Notifying clinical trials using research data from Mark Smyth. In Australia, participant safety in clinical trials is protected by oversight of an independent Human Research Ethics Committee which forms part of the Australian regulatory system for clinical trials, and there is no indication that participant safety has been compromised. 
  • Relevant funding bodies notified and appropriate action taken, including in some cases, repayment or relinquishment of research grants by QIMR Berghofer.
  • Review of the experiments carried out by Professor Smyth during his employment at the Institute, with the assistance of an independent assessor, to verify data produced.
  • Establishment of a newly created role of General Manager of Research Governance and Funding to implement the new Research Integrity Framework at QIMR Berghofer to ensure the highest standards.

Professor Mackay, who received allegations against Mark Smyth just months after she was appointed Director and CEO, said she would leave no stone unturned to ensure the matter was investigated thoroughly and completely – without fear or favour.

“These findings are deeply disappointing and I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation so that it never happens again. It is not easy to prove allegations of this nature but we acted decisively, going above and beyond what was required of the Institute.

“In the preliminary assessment and subsequently in the Panel investigation there was an exhaustive review of the available evidence, including work patterns, schedules, and data over a long period.

“QIMR Berghofer has an outstanding international reputation for its research work and our hundreds of dedicated scientists, along with the community, deserve the very highest standards – and that is what we will deliver.”