Two doctors who've previously drawn scrutiny for failing to disclose financial ties to the drug industry are now under fire for publishing a treatment text that may have been ghostwritten by pharma-paid professionals. The New York Times has obtained documents indicating that a 1999 book credited to Dr. Charles Nemeroff and Dr. Alan Schatzberg was outlined and substantially drafted by Scientific Therapeutics Information. Paying STI's fees was a grant provided by SmithKline Beecham, which is now part of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK)
The "unrestricted grant" from the company was disclosed in the book's preface. But letters and other documents suggest that the drugmaker actually had some control over the text. STI provided drafts to SmithKline Beecham for its comments and approval, the NYT reports. "To ghostwrite an entire textbook is a new level of chutzpah," former FDA chief David Kessler told the Times. "I've never heard of that before. It takes your breath away."
Nemeroff and Schatzberg defended their work on the book, saying the SmithKline Beecham grant truly was "unrestricted" and that they did most of the work. The doctors also asserted that the company wasn't involved in the book's content, and that they developed the concept for the book, outlined it, and worked on all of the content. The court documents dispute that, saying that STI developed "a complete content outline" for Nemeroff's critique.
Both doctors have come under the microscope for their relations with industry. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) alleged the men had not disclosed all their financial relationships with drug companies, and Nemeroff's then-employer, Emory University, banned him from NIH grants for two years after discovering that he had not disclosed at least $1.2 million in industry financing, the Times reports.
For its part, GSK says its policies on using medical writers had been tightened up in recent years. Indeed, a lot has changed industrywide since this book was published in 1999. Drugmakers are disclosing payments to doctors and academics, and the industry has adopted a new code covering gifts to physicians; medical schools and teaching hospitals have set new policies for industry funding, and at least one has outright banned its faculty from speaking for drugmakers.