Most pharmaceutical companies have sworn off ghostwriting, the practice of writing "research" papers for doctors and then paying them to add their names as authors even when they had little involvement or the results were trivial. Merck (MRK), Forest Labs (FRX), and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have all been caught doing it.
But what happens to the articles that have been disavowed by companies or discredited by lawyers? Not much, it turns out. They sit inside prestigious online archives of academic material, unretracted, where they look just like real studies with robust results, according to Martha Rosenberg, an independent journalist who specializes in bashing Big Pharma. And they continue to be cited by other academics doing research, BNET has found.
Ghostwriting doesn't look good in lawsuits, either. Pfizer (PFE) must now pay $9.5 million to a woman who claimed menopause drug Prempro gave her breast cancer; Wyeth -- the company that made the drug and was later acquired by Pfizer -- commissioned ghostwritten articles about the drug.
So it's interesting to note that many of those pay-for-play articles are still sitting in scholarly archives such as PubMed, notching up bibliography references and footnotes, even though they shouldn't be.
Here's a brief selection of Wyeth-commissioned research pieces related to Prempro, a hormone replacement therapy, alongside the archives they're in and the number of cites they've garnered:
- "Is there an association between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer?" in the Journal of Women's Health, 1998 Dec;7(10):1231-46 Cited by 17 in Google Scholar Cited by 0 in PubMed -- Since it was published, a link between HRT therapy and cancer has emerged.
- "The role of hormone replacement therapy in the prevention of Alzheimer disease" in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 2002 Sep 23;162(17):1934-42 Cited by 5 in PubMed Cited by 72 Google Scholar -- Some claim hormone therapy increases the risk of Alzheimer's.
- "Mild cognitive impairment: potential pharmacological treatment options," in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2000 Apr;48(4):431-41 Cited by 52 in Google Scholar Cited by 0 in PubMed -- paper was authored by DesignWrite, a ghostwriting agency, according to Rosenberg.
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- Docs Say Merck Placed Their Names on Ghostwritten Vioxx Articles
- Elsevier Accused Again in Ghostwriting Scandal - This Time in Wyeth Prempro/Premarin Cases
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