Expert sacked over 'unethical drug research'

THE head of Singapore’s National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) has been sacked after an independent panel found him guilty of experimenting on patients without their consent. 

In an 180-page report released on Thursday, the panel said Dr Simon Shorvon used methods “unacceptable in any civilised country”. 

It found that he had allowed the drug L-Dopa to be administered to 127 Parkinson’s patients without their informed consent or their doctors’ knowledge and risked their safety and well-being. 

He also did not seek the prior approval of an ethics committee that would have been the required practice here and internationally. 

The four-member panel was set up in January to look into complaints that Dr Shorvon and his team had breached rules of ethics while conducting a S$10mil (RM22mil) research project on the mutations in the DNA of epilepsy and Parkinson’s patients to find a cure. 

On Thursday, the panel, comprising respected medical doctors, said it found him responsible for exposing patients to risk, conducting tests on them without the approval of an ethics committee and breaching patient confidentiality. 

British-trained Dr Shorvon is a 54-year-old medical expert on epilepsy whose recruitment to head the institute in 2000 was heralded as a coup for Singapore’s bid to become a biomedical hub. 

On Thursday, an embarrassed NNI said he had been sacked effective yesterday. 

In a letter signed by him and dated March 31 that was made public, Dr Shorvon said: “I accept the report and the conclusions therein.” 

The panel’s report is based on investigations that included checking the e-mail exchanges between Dr Shorvon and his researcher Dr Ramachandran Viswanathan, over 300 patient records and interviews with 16 patients, experts and Dr Shorvon himself. 

Attempts by The Straits Times to contact Dr Shorvon, who is married to a Singaporean doctor, were unsuccessful. Dr Ramachandran meanwhile has fled to India. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network 

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