Analysis Slams Drug Company for Ghostwritten Articles

HT therapy: unproven benefits touted, risks downplayed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) An academic analysis of recent litigation against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth, a subsidiary of Pfizer, offers insight into the company’s employment of ghostwriters, who included marketing messages in medical journal articles. Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor in the Department of Physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center, recently brought the troubling news to the fore with an article published in PLoS Medicine

Fugh-Berman’s foray included a detailed analysis of 1,500 documents, including articles that were published in medical journals and used to promote Prempro, a brand of menopausal hormone therapy (HT).

The articles highlighted unproven benefits of the therapy, mitigated harm the HT might potentially cause and cast competing therapies in a negative light. According to Fugh-Berman, for $25,000, Wyeth hired DesignWrite, a medical education and communication company, to produce articles that downplayed the perceived risks of breast cancer linked to HT and promoted unproven uses of HT in the prevention of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vision problems and wrinkles.

The ghostwritten articles also championed unproven cardiovascular benefits of HT.

“Essentially, these articles claimed that Prempro reduces risks while it actually increased risks,” Fugh-Berman said.

Prempro increases the risk of invasive breast cancer, stroke-causing blood clots and cardiovascular disease, according to a federally funded study by the Women’s Health Initiative.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Pempro for treating menopausal symptoms.

Fugh-Berman, who said her team’s analysis proves medical literature “has been corrupted,” also reports DesignWrite was assigned to generate 20 review articles about the drug for which they were compensated $20,000 for each.

“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,” the Georgetown University release reads. 

Recent studies project that 10 percent of articles in medical literature are ghostwritten, an estimated Fugh-Berman considers conservative.

“That’s just the people who admit it,” she said.

Meanwhile Pfizer has countered Fugh-Berman’s claims and the Georgetown team’s assessment.

“This article completely — and conveniently — ignores the fact that the published manuscripts were subjected to rigorous peer-review by outside experts on behalf of the medical journals that published them, and that their integrity and scientific rigor has even been recognized by multiple courts,” the pharmaceutical company said in a statement.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 17, 2010
Last Updated:
February 16, 2011