This week PLoS Medicine published an unprecedented analysis of 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.
Dr Adriane Fugh-Berman of the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC examined the documents and found that Wyeth, aided by the services of a medical communication company called DesignWrite, produced ghostwritten reviews and commentaries that were then published in medical journals and journal supplements; used to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of their menopausal hormone therapy and to cast competing therapies in a negative light.
The ghostwriting practices Dr Fugh-Berman documents in her PLoS Medicine article include Wyeth’s strategies to do with publication planning and recruiting academic “authors”, inserting marketing messages into journal articles including the promotion of off-label, unproved uses of HRT (such as prevention of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and visual impairment), overstating the benefits of the drugs, downplaying harms including the risk of breast cancer, which was beginning to be recognised, and defending a cardiovascular benefit despite no evidence.
The analysis received international press attention upon its publication last night.
We’ve also posted on the PLoS Medicine homepage a list of previous articles on ghostwriting that have appeared in the journal.