In the annals of fakery, it's quite an accomplishment: Massachusetts anesthesiologist Scott S. Reuben allegedly pulled data for 21 drug studies out of thin air. Published between 1996 and 2008, the studies backed the now-withdrawn painkillers Bextra (Pfizer) and Vioxx (Merck), as well as other drugs such as Pfizer's Celebrex and Wyeth's Effexor XR. And no one questioned them--until now.
Reuben fell under suspicion when Baystate Medical Center--where he was chief of acute pain--conducted a routine audit last spring. Now, Baystate has asked several anesthesiology journals to retract the questionable studies, and Reuben is on "indefinite leave" from the hospital.
Many of Reuben's "trials" found that Celebrex and Lyrica, also made by Pfizer, were effective in treating post-op pain, the New York Times reports. Pfizer had paid for some of Reuben's research, and he was paid to speak about Pfizer's products. "Independent clinical research advances disease treatments and improves the lives of patients," Raymond F. Kerins Jr., a Pfizer spokesman, told the paper. "As part of such research, we count on independent researchers to be truthful and motivated by a desire to advance care for patients. It is very disappointing to learn about Dr. Scott Reuben's alleged actions."
Merck didn't comment on the studies, and Wyeth said it wasn't aware of any financial relationship with Reuben. For his part, Reuben's lawyer told the Wall Street Journal that he "deeply regrets that this happened," and that there were "extenuating circumstances." She declined to explain.
Pain management experts said that this news calls into question many of the field's protocols, because Reuben's work helped establish them. Pittsburgh Medical Center, for instance, is conducting its own study to verify the efficacy of drugs Reuben had claimed to work against pain. Whether the retractions will affect sales of Celebrex, Lyrica, et al., remains to be seen.