Whenever I feel like I don’t have quite enough aggravation in my life, I used to like checking out Stuart Laidlaw’s medical ethics column in the Toronto Star. For example, Stuart’s eagle eye once spotted a disturbing article about ‘marketing-based medicine’ published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. It looked at the ever-so-slightly sleazy topic of data fishing. This is what Big Pharma does when science is used improperly to help market their drugs. This includes selective use of clinical trial results to suppress or spin negative results.
For the sake of clarity, let’s call this “lying”.
Another example of marketing-based medicine is the alarmingly dangerous practice of medical ghostwriting. This happens when a report that’s bought and paid for by the drug company to give a positive review of one of its products is then published in medical journals under the name of a respected academic who had little (if anything) to do with the actual journal article. See also: Partners in Slime: Why You Should Be Alarmed About Medical Ghostwriting.
In most cases, according to the JBI study called From Evidence-Based Medicine to Marketing-Based Medicine: Evidence from Internal Industry Documents, these so-called “authors” of ghostwritten medical journal articles are not even allowed to see the raw data of clinical trials. It’s a fatal flaw, the JBI researchers say, because the raw data can sometimes point to a favourable but misleading conclusion that a drug company has fraudulently selected to share with the outside world – and the academics claiming to be the authors of the studies – in order to boost drug sales.
And yet, astonishingly, some physicians still agree to lend the weighty credibility of their names to ghostwritten journal articles about research data they have not even seen.
By participating in such schemes, the study claims:
“Honorary academic authors are not just padding their CVs, they are also potentially harming public health when they fail to carefully review data presented in studies on which their names appear as authors.”
Another revealing study presented at the American College of Preventive Medicine annual meeting by Dr. Mohammed Hassan Murad of Mayo Clinic reviewed 202 published medical journal articles that addressed the now-known association between heart attack risk and the diabetes drug Avandia. Among journal article authors who concluded Avandia does NOT increase the risk, 86% had financial relationships with GlaxoSmithKline. Among authors of articles offering unfavorable reviews, only 18% had relationships with GSK. News Update: January 18, 2011: Glaxo has now taken more than $6 billion in charges to cover ongoing legal problems stemming from their drug Avandia, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks in a widely debated analysis published in 2007. Since then, Glaxo has come under fire for failing to disclose clinical trial data, prompting an extensive US Senate Finance Committee investigation. See: Glaxo Takes a $3.4 Billion Charge for Avandia.