Big Pharma

Big Pharma hired ghostwriters to distort truth about hormone replacement therapy drugs

Tuesday, October 05, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: HRT drugs, medical journals, health news

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(NaturalNews) When medical journals and journal supplements publish scientific information about drug research, you know the information has been carefully reviewed and is accurate and factual, right? Wrong. It has now been documented that Big Pharma has literally paid writers to twist the truth about bad outcomes and to sneak distorted information and marketing messages into so-called "serious" medical journal articles.

Those facts have been revealed by the first academic analysis of 1500 documents unsealed in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth (now part of Pfizer). The litigation was filed in July of last year against menopausal hormone manufacturers by 14,000 plaintiffs whose claims related to the development of breast cancer while taking the hormone therapy (HT) Prempro (conjugated equine estrogens). The shocking facts that came out during the case resulted in a US federal court decision to release the documents to the public.

An investigation of these documents, which was just published in PLoS Medicine, reveals precisely how pharmaceutical companies used ghostwriters to insert what amounts to ads-in-disguise into articles published in medical journals and journal supplements. For example, Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor in the Department of Physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC, analyzed dozens of ghostwritten reviews and commentaries about Prempro which were published in medical journals and journal supplements.

She found that facts were manipulated within the articles to promote unproven benefits and to downplay the harms of Prempro. What's more, the articles were deliberately written in a way to place any competing therapies in a negative light. These articles were widely circulated to physicians directly as well as to Big Pharma drug reps who used them to convince doctors about how wonderful Prempro was and why the drug should be prescribed -- and prescribed it was, by the millions.

So how did Wyeth accomplish this misleading spinning of medical information to sell more drugs? The Big Pharma giant hired a medical education and communication company, DesignWrite, to produce the ghostwritten articles. The hired writers were instructed to mitigate the perceived risks of breast cancer associated with HT and to defend and promote alleged cardiovascular benefits of HT -- even though the supposed facts presented were unsupported by scientific evidence. Wyeth didn't stop there, either. The drug company also had the ghostwriters push for off-label, unproven uses of HT for the prevention of dementia, Parkinson's disease, vision problems, and even wrinkles, according to Dr. Fugh-Berman.

Putting inaccurate and misleading spin on scientific research to pump up drug sales was a profitable business for Wyeth -- and folks at DesignWrite who did the spinning made out well, too. The analysis revealed that DesignWrite was paid $25,000 to ghostwrite articles reporting clinical trials, including four manuscripts about trials of low-dose Prempro. In addition, DesignWrite was assigned to write 20 review articles about the drug, for which they were paid $20,000 per article.

"Given the growing evidence that ghostwriting has been used to promote HT and other highly promoted drugs, the medical profession must take steps to ensure that prescribers renounce participation in ghostwriting, and to ensure that unscrupulous relationships between industry and academia are avoided rather than courted," Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman concluded in her study.

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