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Drug firms accused over medical articles

Oct 15 2004

Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail


HALF the articles appearing in medical journals about new drugs are "ghost written" by the pharmaceutical companies which produce them, a Welsh expert told MPs yesterday.

The Commons Health Committee heard that articles in journals such as The Lancet would appear under the names of distinguished doctors and academics, even though the supposed "authors" had not seen the raw scientific data behind them.

In some cases this could mean data which raises doubts about a drug's safety and efficacy are "kept secret".

Giving evidence to the committee, Professor David Healy, of the Wales College of Medicine, said that the nominal authors would even be paid as if they had written the articles themselves - a tactic used by drugs companies to "engineer" a scientific consensus in favour of their products.

Prof Healy, a professor of psychological medicine who has extensively researched the controversial anti-depressant Seroxat, said, "Increasingly the articles written in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet will not only be ghost written, but they will not represent the raw data they purport to represent.

"They [drug companies] approach authors to have their names put on articles. Those authors may not have even seen the data they put their names to.

"They may be the most distinguished authors from the most prestigious universities."

He said the effect was to produce a "distorted picture of what the data does look like", and was associated with a failure to report important safety issues.

He also told the committee, which is investigating the impact of companies on the NHS, that when clinical trials on drugs produced adverse side effects, the companies would use "euphemisms" to described them.

Prof Healy said that he had seen suicidal tendencies labelled as "nausea" or "emotionally labile", and aggressive behaviour verging on homicidal in children, was simply described as "hostile".

Leading figures in the medical profession can earn large sums from the drugs companies by giving talks on their products, the committee also heard yesterday.

Dr Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, said the pharmaceutical industry is willing to pay up to £5,000 for a one-hour talk with doctors who may well be unaware that the speaker was in the pay of the company.

He said, "People don't always declare their conflicts of interest. In the majority of cases they are not declared. Where they are, the actual sums are not declared.

"It is the only way that academics can achieve the salaries their NHS colleagues get from private practice."

Dr Wilmshurst said that in the 1980s he had been offered a bribe equivalent to two years' salary not to publish research on the side effects of a new heart drug which ran "counter to the interests" of the company producing it.

Although he refused, he said other doctors who had carried out similar research had been persuaded not to publish their findings.

The company concerned had also supplied forged documents to regulators in the Netherlands, he claimed.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Journal said, "The BMJ asks authors - notably the guarantor of the article - to state that they accept full responsibility for the conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish.

"We also publish contributorship statements for each piece of research, which show exactly what each contributor has done - including the data analysis."

The Lancet was last night unavailable for comment.


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