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Education And Debate

Medical journals and pharmaceutical companies: uneasy bedfellows

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 29 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1202
  1. Richard Smith, editor (
  1. 1 BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Many medical journals have a substantial income from pharmaceutical companies from the purchasing of advertising and reprints and the sponsoring of supplements. Is this funding corrupting journals?

    One of my first experiences of the relation between medical journals and pharmaceutical companies occurred in the early 1980s after the BMJ had published papers suggesting that a new non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, benoxaprofen, might have serious side effects. We were visited by three stern men from Eli Lilly, the makers of the drug. Tony Smith, the deputy editor, conducted the meeting and asked me to join him. The men, whom I remember (probably wrongly) as having gold teeth, threatened us with legal action, at which point Tony said: “In that case we'll see you in court.” They backtracked hastily and asked simply to be able to publish a prompt response.

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    Those papers led eventually to benoxaprofen being banned, but the drug's rapid demise may well have been caused by its rapid ascent. The summer before the meeting with the men with gold teeth, I had visited Eli Lilly's headquarters in Indianapolis. I had won a prize from the Medical Journalists Association, and the money had to spent on a journalistic investigation. I was interested in compensation for drug injury and decided to visit the United States to look at its system. The prize money came from Lilly, and as Lilly had been involved in one of the biggest cases of drug injury—from diethylstilbestrol—it made sense to visit them. My wife and I were put up in a grand hotel at the company's expense and treated very well.

    Lilly showed me films that were to be used to promote benoxaprofen when it was launched. I thought them wildly over the top: patients with severe arthritis were shown before they took the drug and then …

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