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JAMA Oversight Committee to Look Into Lexapro Study Controversy

Mar 30, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The American Medical Association (AMA) is responding to allegations that two top editors of  the Journal of the American Medical Association  (JAMA) attempted to intimidate a critic of a Lexapro study it published.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the AMA has asked its oversight committee to investigate the charges.

The controversy centers on Dr. Jonathan Leo's criticism of a Lexapro study published in the JAMA.  Dr. Leo is a professor of neuroanatomy at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

Earlier this month, Dr. Leo published an online letter in the British journal BMJ that criticized how the study's results were reported in the JAMA  last year. Dr. Leo also said the JAMA didn't disclose the author of the study's financial relationship with Lexapro's maker, Forest Laboratories Inc.  Forest has confirmed it has paid the study’s author for speeches, but not for his research, the Journal said.

Following publication of his letter, the  JAMA's  Editor-in-Chief called the dean of Dr. Leo's college demanding a retraction. In an earlier Wall Street Journal report on the “dust up”, the editor-in-chief called Dr. Leo a “nobody and a nothing”.  According to The Wall Street Journal,  Dr. Leo has also claimed that the JAMA's Executive Deputy Editor had told him "You are banned from JAMA for life. You will be sorry."  

As we reported last week, the flap prompted the Alliance for Human Research Protection to call for an investigation, as well as the suspension of both the Editor-in-Chief and Executive Deputy Editor at JAMA.  The Alliance is a group that has long criticized the ties between the drug industry and academia.  

In a letter to the chairman of the JAMA board of trustees, the Alliance said medical journal editors have a responsibility “to provide an open forum for scientific debate, and to preserve the scientific integrity of the journal and its content by ensuring against concealed conflicts of interest.” The Alliance contends that the JAMA editors not only “failed to meet this responsibility, they resorted to threatening retribution against a researcher who detected failures in their editing and gatekeeping processes.”  The Alliance letter charged that the incident involving Dr. Leo has raised questions about whether drug advertising influences JAMA’s publication of biased reports.

In a statement, the AMA said it has "formally referred" the matter to a seven-member Journal Oversight Committee.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the oversight committee is a standing body that has editorial responsibility for JAMA, including evaluating the performance of the Editor-in-Chief. The committee is made up primarily of medical academics.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the AMA statement said it takes the concerns raised over the Dr. Leo matter "very seriously." It said the AMA board will "give careful consideration to whatever is reported to it" by the oversight committee.

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