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
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
"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