Another form of fraud and corruption in sciene: AT least one country has a highly profitable market for fake research reagents

We’ve shared many stories of the “predatory open-access online journals”, more than 15,000 having appeared during these past 5-10 years, which profit by quick-publications and little or no legitimate peer review processes. Another type of fraud and corruption, at least alive and well in one country, has to do with fake research agents, as described in the attached editorial.

In 2013, Huang Song walked into a printing shop in Beijing and stumbled upon evidence of a brazen and widespread criminal enterprise; Huang was just 15 kilometers from Beijing’s National Institute of Biological Sci­ences –– where he does synthetic-biology research. Scouting out a small desktop machine to produce the hundreds of labels needed for his experiments, he asked if a certain model could print on heat-resistant paper. The shop owner proudly pulled out some samples he had made for customers using that same machine.

Huang was shocked to see names such as ‘Abcam’ and ‘Cell Signaling Technology’ on labels that looked exactly like those on vials of expensive antibodies produced by Western-based companies. Although the writing meant nothing to the friendly shop owner, for Huang it directly corroborated what he and a number of his colleagues had long suspected: many of the antibodies and other reagents sold by Chinese distributors were not what they were supposed to be. Counterfeiters were getting fake and diluted research reagents on to the market, and this shop in Zhongguancun, Beijing’s pre­mier technology park, was one of the places they were buying machines to make their labels. “I had a suspicion. That (visit to this shop) confirmed it,” Huang says.

Huang says the ultimate solution is to destroy the profitability of the enterprise. He helped to establish iBio, a 60% state-owned company that opened in December 2o15 and brings customs and quarantine inspec­tion under one roof, right on his institute’s campus. Huang, who doesn’t profit from the business, says most reagents are now available within 10 days –– compared with the month or more it might have taken before. Similar companies have been established in Shanghai and Suzhou.

Nature 11 May 2o17; 545: 148–150

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