The controversial study linking the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism was based on falsified data and "manufactured at a London medical school," according to a report in the British Medical Journal.
Authored by journalist Brian Deer, the investigative report includes a number of findings which suggest that the team at the Royal Free medical school, led by Andrew Wakefield, were not guilty of bad scientific practice but in fact engaged in deliberate fraud.
Wakefield et al sparked a major health scare when their paper was first published in The Lancet in 1998 linking MMR vaccine to a syndrome characterised by autism and bowel disease, with the after effects still apparent to this day.
The paper, which focused on 12 case studies of children who allegedly were healthy until they received the vaccine, was finally retracted in 2010 after the UK General Medical Council ruled that Wakefield had acted irresponsibly and dishonestly.
On the strength of interviews with the parents of the children in the study, as well as the examination of documentary records and publicly-available data, Deer has concluded that the entire exercise was an elaborate fabrication.
Facts about patients' histories were altered to support the claims, and behind it all was an effort by Wakefield to exploit the MMR scare for financial gain, according to the BMJ report, which points to his involvement in lawsuits seeking damages from vaccine manufacturers.
Fiona Godlee, the BMJ's editor in chief, says in an editorial accompanying Deer's report that the evidence is irrefutable.
"Is it possible that [Wakefield] was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No."
The BMJ has now started an investigation into articles it has published which list Wakefield as an author "to decide whether any more papers should be retracted."