PHARMA: Doctor says drug firms ghost write medical articles, with UPDATE from The Industry Veteran

Given the controversy over Vioxx, big Pharma’s PR and The Lancet‘s fight with Crestor last year, this headline from a British government enquiry is pretty explosive stuff. Doctor says drug firms ghost write medical articles. And the articles that are being discussed are ones that are peer-reviewed and in major journals including The Lancet:

Professor David Healy, of the University of Wales, told the House of Commons health select committee on Thursday that as many as half the articles published in journals such as the British Medical Journal and The Lancet were written by members of the industry who had a vested interest in selling the drugs involved. Respected clinicians were then paid to have their names put at the top of the articles, he said, even though they had not seen the raw data on which they were based.

Whether there’s much truth in these allegations remains to be seen, but given what’s gone on in the scandal plagued relationship between doctors and pharma….well let me give you an analogy. I’m a San Francisco Giants fan, and I hope that Barry Bonds wasn’t using steroids, but when his personal trainer says he was I’m starting to believe that smoke and fire connection.

Of course, it might only be those British and Austrian academics and European drug companies who behave like that!

UPDATE: The Industry Veteran, who has more than mild opinions about the behavior of pharma companies and that of the doctors they work closely with, suprisingly enough has something to say about this story and THCB’s mealy-mouthed moderation:

Your hints of qualification and skepticism in “Doctor says drug firms ghost write medical articles” require admonition. After the last few years, how can anyone seriously entertain doubts that a substantial portion of research articles authored by key opinion leaders (KOLs in industry shorthand) are actually written by the pharmaceutical companies? We’re not talking here about cases where these superwhores conduct a study that the sponsoring company then writes up; what Professor Healy and others describe are the numerous instances where the KOLs never even get involved in the study. The sponsors and their investigators who lack any national recognition frequently conduct studies and then pay a superwhore for attaching his name as the lead author. The sponsor can conduct the study far more cheaply because they needn’t pay for the KOL’s retinue of postdocs, administrators, data coordinators and the rest. The KOL gets compensation for the use of his name and a publication that embellishes his expertise in a cutting edge area, thereby raising his speaking fees and consulting credentials. The practice has actually created an entire, parasitic industry of “medical ommunications companies” that write journal articles and create PowerPoint slides that KOLs present at conventions. I find it amusing that pharmaceutical marketers will express high indignation that they have paid a KOL hundreds of thousands of dollars for articles, speaking fees, train-the-trainer sessions and so forth, only to find that after a year or so, the slime bucket trades upon this burnished expertise to collect higher fees from another manufacturer with a competing, new product. Imagine that, refusing to do business on a bought-and-paid-for basis! Well, I guess that is the market at work, that holy of holies according to your physician contributors and the Bush ideologues.

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