Study details Wyeth ghostwriting on Prempro

Unsealed court documents haven't been kind to Big Pharma. They've raised questions about AstraZeneca's marketing techniques on Seroquel and Amgen's Enbrel sales efforts; they've fueled critics of Abbott Laboratories' AIDS-drug pricing; they've provided evidence for journal articles on Merck's Vioxx marketing. And they've provided ammo for foes of ghostwriting.

It's this last bit that's hit the news again today: Some documents from Wyeth's ongoing litigation over hormone replacement therapy are the basis of a sharply critical new study in PLoS Medicine. This isn't the first time we've heard about Wyeth-commissioned journal articles about Prempro. But this study offers details about the interactions between the drugmaker, DesignWrite, and the academics named as authors of the papers. 

According to the study--co-authored by prominent ghostwriting critic Adriane Fugh-Berman--Wyeth paid a ghostwriting firm to write journal articles that highlighted HRT's benefits and downplayed its risks. The professional writers from DesignWrite sometimes got only minimal help from the bylined academics, the study says.

The ghostwritten articles were published years ago, between 1997 and 2003. Pfizer (which bought Wyeth last year) says it has cracked down on ghostwriting, with new policies that require academic authors to be involved in papers from start to finish. Contributions of other authors are required to be disclosed as well. Whether that's enough to stave off bias--and prevent future court-document criticism--remains to be seen.

- see the story in Nature
- get more from Reuters