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Wyeth’s ghostwriting skeletons yanked from the closet

ghostwriterWyeth, maker of the leading drugs for hormone replacement therapy, paid ghostwriters to help produce scientific papers lauding, yes, hormone replacement therapy, reports the NY Times.

The scandal’s been brewing since late 2008, when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) started prodding the company to cough up documents detailing its relationship with medical-writing company DesignWrite Inc. On 27 July, upon request from PLoS Medicine and the New York Times Company, a federal judge ordered the public release of the records, effective 31 July.

The NYTimes says the documents show that, between 1998 and 2005, Wyeth paid DesignWrite to help produce 26 scientific papers that “emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks” of hormone replacement therapy. The articles “were typically review articles, in which an author weighs a large body of medical research and offers a bottom-line judgment about how to treat a particular ailment”.


The NYTimes alleges Wyeth paid DesignWrite $25,000 to generate an article that declared HRT as the “gold standard” for treating hot flashes. An employee wrote a 14-page outline of the article with the author listed as “TBD”, before sending it to a professor of obstetrics and gynecology. The prof emailed DesignWrite that it was “excellent” and signed off on both the outline and the draft, with a single edit. She was then listed as the primary author.

The report comes with a sharp-looking flowchart that illustrates how documents were passed along by various Wyeth-manned puppets before arriving in the trusting hands of medical professionals.

Not surprisingly, both DesignWrite and Wyeth insist they haven’t done anything wrong. DesignWrite, which proposed a two-year article preparation plan to Wyeth in 1997, insisted that the company “has not, and will not, participate in the publication of any material in which it does not have complete confidence in the scientific validity of the content, based upon the best available data”.

Wyeth claims the articles were “scientifically sound and subjected to rigorous review by outside experts on behalf of the medical journals that published them”. They now say they are “mandating that authors become involved early in the publication process and that any financial assistance by Wyeth or contributions by medical writers be acknowledged in the published text”.

Image: Flickr/striatic

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    ahoffmanCJD said:

    It’s precisely this sort of “sell at any cost” (as opposed to “safety first”) mentality that should lead consumers to be very wary of drug and device manufacturers. Thank goodness for the Supreme Court’s decision in Wyeth v. Levine, and here’s hoping the Medical Device Act passes soon. http://tinyurl.com/lqzhde

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    IMAP - Medical Professionalism said:

    There has been a lot of positive movement on this topic in recent months since this article was first published. The Institute on Medicine as a Profession has updated their vast online conflict of interest policy database to include the topic of ghostwriting. Many Academic Medical Centers have instituted strong policies against ghostwriting, just in the last few months.

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