Peer Review Battle Nets Firm $21 Million

WASHINGTON--A 12-year-old fight over allegations that one group of researchers misappropriated another's discovery during peer review ended abruptly late in the night on 31 October. This battle, which began with a dispute over who first discovered a human immune system molecule called interleukin-1 b (IL-1 b), concluded with a $21 million settlement just days before it was to go to trial in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

According to an announcement issued today by both companies, Immunex Corp. of Seattle will pay $21 million to Cistron Biotechnology of Pine Brook, New Jersey, in five installments over a 4-year period. In addition, Immunex is giving Cistron the patents it holds on IL-1 b. In return, Cistron is dropping its claim that Immunex took IL-1 b data from Cistron. The joint announcement adds that defendant Immunex admits no wrongdoing but signed this agreement as a way of "avoiding a lengthy trial."

Cistron initially sued Immunex for damages of more than $100 million. It alleged that a former Immunex scientist used IL-1 b data from a confidential Cistron manuscript, which he had been asked to review for Nature, in Immunex's own research program. Immunex denied the charges but appeared to be preparing to argue in court that there is nothing wrong with making use of data from someone else's paper under review. Now that the case has been settled, it leaves unanswered the question of whether the traditional confidentiality of the peer review system has any legal validity.