Drug Companies Paid For Articles

by Chris Sturr | December 12, 2008

The New York Times reports that drug giant Wyeth paid doctors and researchers to put their names on articles to medical journals that had been ghostwritten by company hacks.

Some of the articles were published extolling the benefits of the company’s hormone-replacement drug Prempro after a large federal drug study had indicated that the drug could lead to an increase in breast cancer.

The documents have come to light as part of investigations by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

The documents show company executives came up with ideas for medical journal articles, titled them, drafted outlines, paid writers to draft the manuscripts, recruited academic authors and identified publications to run the articles – all without disclosing the companies’ roles to journal editors or readers.

The issue of ghostwriting for medical journals has been raised in the past, involving various companies and drugs, including the Merck painkiller Vioxx, which was withdrawn in 2004 after it was linked to heart problems, and Wyeth’s diet pills, Redux and Pomdimin, withdrawn in 1997 after being linked to heart and lung problems.

But the documents Mr. Grassley released Friday provide a detailed look at the practice — from the conception of ideas for journal articles through the distribution of reprints.

The articles all involve reviews of clinical studies and other research. While such reviews are common in medical publishing, what Mr. Grassley contends happened with the Wyeth-commissioned articles is that that expert authors whose names appear on the articles became involved only after outlines or drafts of the articles were already written.

When accusations of ghostwriting have cropped up in patient lawsuits over its hormone drugs, Wyeth executives to date have insisted that their publication practices were legitimate and that the listed authors played significant roles in journal articles.

But the documents released Friday include a “publication plan tracking report” by Wyeth showing 10 articles in which manuscripts were completed by the company before they were sent to the putative author for review. Any revisions were subject to final approval from the company, according to the tracking report.

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