News

Wyeth paid ghostwriters to draft articles promoting its hormones, PLoS Medicine and New York Times say

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3288 (Published 11 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3288
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

    The drug firm Wyeth has defended itself after court documents seemed to show that it paid a medical communications company to draft articles promoting the use of its hormone replacement therapies.

    A news story in the New York Times (www.nytimes.com, 5 Aug, “Medical papers by ghostwriters pushed therapy”) said that the documents on ghostwriting were uncovered by lawyers suing Wyeth and were made public after a request in court from the medical journal PLoS Medicine and the New York Times.

    The New York Times story said: “The court documents provide a detailed paper trail showing how Wyeth contracted with a medical communications company to outline articles, draft them, and then solicit top physicians to sign their names, even though many of the doctors contributed little or no writing. The documents suggest that the practice went well beyond the case of Wyeth and hormone therapy, involving numerous drugs and other pharmaceutical companies.”

    The lawyers were suing Wyeth on behalf of women who claim that their use of the firm’s hormone replacement drugs Premarin and Prempro caused illness. The drugs were best sellers until the US women’s health initiative study of Prempro in postmenopausal women reported in 2002 that its use increased the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

    A Wyeth spokesman, Doug Petkus, told the BMJ that the articles, which were mostly review papers and appeared in 18 medical journals between 1998 and 2005, were scientifically valid and that the company had followed industry standards. He said that Wyeth’s policy since 2006 has been to disclose all company involvement in the development of scientific articles.

    Mr Petkus said, “The practice of developing scientific articles as described in court proceedings has been the subject of court commentary after reviewing evidence presented by plaintiffs. For example, Judge Wilson concluded that the practices in question were ‘the norm in the industry’ and that there was no evidence that Wyeth supported articles that it knew were false or misrepresented the science

    “The bottom line is that the authors of the articles in question exercised substantive editorial control over the content of the articles and had the final say, in all respects, over the content, all of which was scientifically accurate.”

    Michael Platt, president of DesignWrite, a medical communications company, said: “Some people are trying to paint a picture of DesignWrite and the medical writing industry as a whole as presenting inaccurate scientific and medical information. That simply is not the case. DesignWrite’s staff includes writing professionals with advanced degrees in the life sciences (MDs, PharmDs, or PhDs).

    “Based on their scientific education, training, and experience, these writers have the ability to synthesise complicated concepts and data to create written materials that communicate effectively with a clinical audience. DesignWrite stands by the medical and scientific validity of every article in which it has participated.”

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3288

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