Extensive Use of Ghostwriters, Guest Authors in Studies Involving Rofecoxib

Extensive Use of Ghostwriters, Guest Authors in Studies Involving Rofecoxib

Reston, VA, 4/16/2008 – Today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, National Physicians Alliance member Joseph S. Ross, M.D., M.H.S., published a study revealing the rampant use of ghostwriters and “guest authors” in the production of clinical trial and review articles regarding rofecoxib (a nonsteroidal anti- inflammatory drug).

Court documents from litigation related to this product indicate that company employees or other unacknowledged authors were frequently involved in writing clinical trial articles and review articles, but that primary authorship was often attributed to academically affiliated investigators who may have had little to do with the study, or who did not always disclose financial support from the sponsor of the study.  The researchers used court documents, created predominantly between 1996 and 2004 and originally obtained during litigation related to rofecoxib against Merck & Co. Inc.  Documents also describe Merck compensating investigators with honoraria for agreeing to serve as authors on review manuscripts ghostwritten on their behalf by medical publishing companies.  “Among 96 relevant published articles, we found that 92 percent (22 of 24) of clinical trial articles published a disclosure of Merck’s financial support, but only 50 percent (36 of 72) of review articles published either a disclosure of Merck sponsorship or a disclosure of whether the author had received any financial compensation from the company.”

There is a growing need for physicians to limit their marketing relationships with pharmaceutical companies. According to a study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, 94% of physicians accept gifts, payments, reimbursements or other financial incentives from the pharmaceutical industry.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that such gifts and payments directly influence medical decision-making.  It has become difficult for physicians to find and distinguish legitimate, evidence-based medical information from biased, industry-influenced sources.  Frequently drug company employees draft articles and the companies then pay prominent scientists, physicians, and medical school faculty members for the use of their names as authors. Such “ghostwriting” is widespread, but nearly impossible to determine.

As physicians, we must reclaim medical practice from undue marketing pressures. The National Physicians Alliance encourages all doctors to join our Unbranded Doctor Campaign—a national network of physicians committed to reducing the influence of pharmaceutical marketing on our profession: www.unbrandeddoctor.org.

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