Image credit: OUI/Greg Smolonski
Statement from Professor Ewan McKendrick, Registrar of Oxford University
The BBC’s File on 4 programme (6 June 2017) has examined the role of animal experiments in the development of a new human vaccine for tuberculosis, in particular the MVA85A vaccine being trialled by Professor Helen McShane at the University of Oxford. In recent weeks, the programme-makers have put a number of questions to Professor McShane which included suggestions that data from animal experiments with the vaccine had been withheld, and that it may have been unethical to proceed from animal experiments to trials in humans.
None of the allegations raised by File on 4 is new to the University; indeed each of them has been previously examined in detail by independent panels convened by the University. In 2016, a panel of senior academics with an understanding of this area, including an external member, investigated a complaint of selective and misleading presentation of data against Professor McShane in accordance with the University’s code of practice and procedure on academic integrity in research.
The investigation panel reviewed the documentary evidence and interviewed those involved. On the basis of the facts, they saw no evidence of selective referencing, of deliberate delay in publishing, of selective use of statistics, or of lack of representation of pre-clinical data to the relevant regulatory, ethical or grant bodies. They therefore concluded, among other things, that there was no evidence of academic misconduct on the part of Professor McShane, and they did not uphold the complaint. On the basis of phase 1 and phase 2A trials of MVA85A they thought it probable that it would have been unethical not to have proceeded with the phase 2 trials; it followed therefore that they did not support the complainant’s view that a large amount of money and clinical resources had been wasted on the clinical trials. The panel emphasised strongly that disagreements on scientific methods or interpretation of scientific data should be debated openly in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, or at scientific gatherings, in a spirit of academic integrity and ultimate common purpose.
The 2016 investigation followed two previous investigations instigated by the same person in relation to Professor McShane’s research; none of them have found there to have been any wrong-doing on her part.