How Reliable Are Cancer Studies?

A project that tried to reproduce the results of 50 landmark papers turned into an arduous slog—and that’s a problem in itself.

Ed Yong, The Atlantic

In recent years, scientists have been dealing with concerns about a reproducibility crisis—the possibility that many published findings may not actually be true. Psychologists have grappled intensively with this problem, trying to assess its scope and look for solutions. And two reports from pharmaceutical companies have suggested that cancer biologists have to face a similar reckoning.

In 2011, Bayer Healthcare said that its in-house scientists could only validate 25 percent of basic studies in cancer and other conditions. (Drug companies routinely do such checks so they can use the information in those studies as a starting point for developing new drugs.) A year later, Glenn Begley and Lee Ellis from Amgen said that the firm could only confirm the findings in 6 out of 53 landmark cancer papers—just 11 percent. Perhaps, they wrote, that might explain why “our ability to translate cancer research to clinical success has been remarkably low.”

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