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Busted! Couple Imprisoned for Faking Data

In what scientific misconduct experts say is an unusual crime, a federal judge has sentenced a former drug company executive to 3 years in prison for falsifying data in a clinical trial. His co-conspirator was sentenced to 2.5 years.

Prosecutors charged that Harry Snyder, a former vice president of BioCryst Pharmaceutical in Birmingham, Alabama, and his wife, nurse Renee Peugeot, conspired to make BCX-34, a drug developed to treat psoriasis and T cell lymphoma, appear effective. The couple planned to cash in by selling stock in the company when the share price rose on news of the drug's success, prosecutors alleged. But BioCryst abandoned the drug several years ago after informing regulators about study irregularities. Last month a jury convicted the couple of conspiracy, mail fraud, and making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration.

Snyder and Peugeot's lawyers have appealed the verdict, maintaining that the pair made only record-keeping errors. Criminalizing research mistakes is "unprecedented," says Mark White, Peugeot's lawyer.

Although the government routinely prosecutes stock manipulators, researchers don't often face criminal charges for falsifying data, agrees Chris Pascal, director of the Office of Research Integrity at the Department of Health and Human Services. Scientific misconduct cases, he says, typically end up in court only if the researcher appeals government disciplinary action.