Ghostwriting in the medical literature

PLoS Medicine published an article recently that sheds light on the ghostwriting practices of the pharmaceutical industry that the journal has helped uncover.

Adriane Fugh Berman of Georgetown University examined the Wyeth Ghostwriting Archive – a collection of documents uncovered during recent litigation brought against Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer) by thousands of women who developed breast cancer while taking hormones manufactured by the company. PLoS Medicine and The New York Times intervened in this litigation, which resulted in 1500 documents being unsealed and thus available for scrutiny by the public, journalists, and academics.

This is the first academic analysis of the documents. Dr Fugh Berman found that Wyeth worked with a medical communication company called DesignWrite to produce ghostwritten reviews and commentaries that were then placed in medical journals and journal supplements to over-promote the benefits and downplay the harms of their menopausal hormone therapy.

On a related note, UCSF now houses the Drug Industry Document Archive, which contains thousands of documents and resources about pharmaceutical industry clinical trials, publication of study results, pricing, marketing, relations with physicians and involvement in continuing medical education. Most of these previously secret internal documents were made public as a result of lawsuits against a number of pharmaceutical companies including: Merck & Co., Parke-Davis, Warner-Lambert, Wyeth, and Pfizer.

This post originally appeared on the PLoS Blog and has been slightly modified here. Used by permission of the author.