By Dr. Marc-André Gagnon and Dr. Sergio Sismondo, Expert Advisors – EvidenceNetwork.ca
OTTAWA, and KINGSTON, ON, June 16, 2011/ Troy Media/ – The medical research world has been concerned about the problem of ghostwriting for more than a decade.
The issue has been repeatedly raised in the mainstream media over the past few years, with most of the commentary focused on the ethics of academics serving as authors on papers they did not write and on some of the most egregious actions by pharmaceutical companies.
But these efforts miss the ways in which Big Pharma has developed new forms of medical research to serve its own interests.
How ghostwriting feeds Big Pharma profits
Big Pharma firms spend twice as much on promotion as on research and development (R&D). But it is worse than that: more and more medical R&D is organized as promotional campaigns to make physicians aware of products. The bulk of the industry’s external funding for research now goes to contract research organizations to produce studies that feed into large numbers of articles submitted to medical journals.
Internal documents from Pfizer, made public in litigation, showed that 85 scientific articles on its antidepressant Zoloft were produced and coordinated by a public relations company. Pfizer itself thus produced a critical mass of the favourable articles placed among the 211 scientific papers on Zoloft in the same period. Internal documents tell similar stories for Merck’s Vioxx, GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil, Astra-Zeneca’s Seroquel, and Wyeth’s hormone-replacement drugs.
To promote the now-notorious Vioxx, Merck organized a ghostwriting campaign that involved some 96 scientific articles. Key ones did not mention the death of some patients during clinical trials. Through a class action lawsuit against Vioxx in Australia, it was discovered that Elsevier had created a fake medical journal for Merck – the Australasian Journal of Joint and Bone Medicine – and perhaps 10 other fake journals for Merck and other Big Pharma companies.
In another example, GlaxoSmithKline organized a ghostwriting program to promote its antidepressant Paxil. According to internal documents made public in 2009, the program was called “Case Study Publication for Peer-Review”, or CASPPER, a playful reference to the “friendly ghost”. Such strategies are not exceptions; they are now the norm in the industry. Most new drugs with blockbuster potential are introduced accompanied by 50, 60, or even 100 medical journal articles. Any firm that refused to play this game in the name of ethics would likely lose market share. Profits in the pharmaceutical industry depend on companies’ capacity to influence medical knowledge and create market share and market niches for their products.
A call for Evidence-Based medicine
Read the entire article here.
[Note from SaneVax: This article clearly illustrates one of the major problems with the health care industry around the world. As a medical consumer, doing research before deciding whether or not to consent to medications/medical procedures is difficult enough without having to contend with tactics such as those illustrated in this article. Where are the regulatory agencies when you need them?]