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JAMA Slammed Over Lexapro Study Debacle

Mar 27, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A nonprofit group has criticized the Journal of the America Medical Association (JAMA) over its treatment of a researcher who questioned a Lexapro study it published. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Alliance for Human Research Protection is calling for the suspension of two JAMA editors because of their role in the debacle. The Alliance is a group that has long criticized the ties between the drug industry and academia, the Journal said.

In a letter to the chairman of the JAMA board of trustees, Vera Sharav, President of the Alliance, wrote that the organization was "deeply concerned about the unbecoming and unethical conduct of the Editor-in-chief and Executive Deputy Editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who were reported to have used unprofessional and intimidating tactics against a conscientious academic, Dr. Jonathan Leo."

According to The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Leo criticized how results were reported in a JAMA study published last year that looked at the use of the antidepressant Lexapro in stroke victims. Dr. Leo also said JAMA didn't report the study's author had a 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.

Dr. Leo is s a professor of neuroanatomy at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.  His criticism of the JAMA Lexapro study appeared in a March 5 letter published by a British journal, BMJ, the Journal said.

The Alliances' letter charges that JAMA's Executive Deputy Editor threatened Dr. Leo, and its Editor-in-Chief called the dean of Leo's college demanding a retraction.  In a Wall Street Journal report on the "dust up", the editor-in-chief called Dr. Leo a "nobody and a nothing", the Alliance letter says.  

According to the Alliance, 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 charges that the incident involving Dr. Leo has raised questions about whether drug advertising influences JAMA's publication of biased reports.  The conduct of the JAMA Editor-in-Chief also "touched off an outpouring of 158 angry responses posted on the Wall Street Journal Health blog, the majority posted by physicians, several respondents indicated they are canceling their JAMA subscriptions," the letter claims.

The letter concludes with a call for a public apology to Dr.  Leo by the American Medical Association, the immediate suspension from duty of the two editors involved in the matter, a thorough investigation, and a commitment to reviewing, clarifying and publishing JAMA's editorial policies.

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