Shameless: Drug Companies Hired Ghostwriters to Pose as Doctors

According to newly released documents from GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company often paid ghostwriters to pen medical studies, editorials and even a textbook that listed physicians as the authors.

The documents—some of which date back to late 1990s—were recently unsealed in litigation over a GlaxoSmithKline product. We saw them after they were attached to a letter released this week[1] by a nonprofit watchdog group urging the National Institutes of Health to crack down on ghostwriting in medical academia. The documents and the letter by Project on Government Oversight together outline several examples of how a major drug company contributed to the funding, writing and approval of material published in medical journals and elsewhere.

The textbook, published in 1999, listed two physician co-authors who at the time were chairs of the psychiatry departments at the medical schools of Stanford University and Emory University, the New York Times reported this week[2] in a piece that focused only on the textbook. According to the Times, it’s the first instance where a book has been criticized for the same issues with ghostwriting and drug industry influence that have plagued medical journals.

A GSK spokesman told the Times that the company’s role was described in the book’s preface[3], which thanked the UK drugmaker (then known as SmithKline Beecham) for an “unrestricted educational grant” to the ghostwriting company, Scientific Therapeutics Information. Correspondence between a Scientific Therapeutics Information employee and one of the co-authors, however, shows the employee informing the stated author that she had “begun development of the text.” The employee, Sally Laden, also described her co-worker as the “primary technical writer[4]” and manager for the project.

According to the documents, that same ghostwriter, Sally Laden, wrote an editorial published in 2003 in a medical journal with authorship attributed to two more doctors. One, Dwight Evans, is chairman of the psychiatry department of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. His co-author, Dennis Charney, was head of a research program for the National Institute of Mental Health. (We’ve asked both for comment but have not yet received a response.) While Laden was credited for “editorial support[5]” in the published article, another document seems to suggest she played more than just a supporting role. In an e-mail to a GlaxoSmithKline employee[6], she inquired about the status of her payment “for writing Dwight Evans’ editorial.”

Read the rest of the story onProPublica.

ProPublica / By Marian Wang

Posted at December 2, 2010, 6:07am

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