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Wyeth Accused of Using Ghostwriters for Prempro, Pemarin Studies

Dec 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has been accused of paying ghostwriters to write favorable articles about its drugs that later appeared in medical journals.  According to letters written by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Wyeth may have paid DesignWrite Inc. of Princeton, New Jersey, to write articles that downplayed the breast cancer risks of its hormone therapy drug Prempro.

Grassley is the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.  He has been on something of a crusade to uncover the manner in which pharmaceutical companies use their vast financial resources to influence medical research, and the way results of studies are presented.

In his letter to Wyeth, Grassley wrote that his Committee had obtained documents from recent lawsuits involving Wyeth’s hormone drugs that relate to articles published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Primary Care Update for OB/GYNs.  Grassley wrote that he was concerned that researchers listed as authors of those articles weren’t deeply involved in their writing.

According to The Wall Street Journal Health Blog, one of the journal article in question was published a year after the Women’s Health Initiative linked Prempro hormone-replacement product to an increased risk for breast cancer. The May 2003 article, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said there was “no definitive evidence” for that link.

“Any attempt to manipulate the scientific literature, that can in turn mislead doctors to prescribe drugs that may not work and/or cause harm to their patients, is very troubling,” Grassley wrote in his letter to Wyeth.

Grassley also wrote a similar letter to DesignWrite seeking information about its involvement in the allegedly-ghostwritten articles.

Other drug makers have been the subject of ghostwriting accusations in the past, and industry critics claim it is a common practice.  For example, last April an analysis of court documents uncovered in the course of Vioxx injury lawsuits found that Merck & Co. employees worked alone or with publishing companies to write Vioxx study manuscripts and later recruited academic medical experts to put their names as first authors on the studies. According to the analysis, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Merck’s involvement in producing the data wasn’t disclosed in many cases.

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