The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT”
Adriane J. Fugh-Berman*
Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C., United States of America
Citation: Fugh-Berman AJ (2010) The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT”. PLoS Med 7(9): e1000335. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000335
Published: September 7, 2010
Funding: The author received no specific funding for this article.
Competing interests: Dr. Fugh-Berman was a paid expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs in the litigation referred to in this paper. She was not paid for any part of researching or writing this paper. Dr. Fugh-Berman directs PharmedOut, a Georgetown University-based project founded with public money from the Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Grant program and currently supported by individual donations.
Some 1500 documents revealed in litigation provide unprecedented insights into how pharmaceutical companies promote drugs, including the use of vendors to produce ghostwritten manuscripts and place them into medical journals.
Dozens of ghostwritten reviews and commentaries published in medical journals and supplements were used to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of menopausal hormone therapy (HT), and to cast raloxifene and other competing therapies in a negative light.
Specifically, the pharmaceutical company Wyeth used ghostwritten articles to mitigate the perceived risks of breast cancer associated with HT, to defend the unsupported cardiovascular “benefits” of HT, and to promote off-label, unproven uses of HT such as the prevention of dementia, Parkinson's disease, vision problems, and wrinkles.
Given the growing evidence that ghostwriting has been used to promote HT and other highly promoted drugs, the medical profession must take steps to ensure that prescribers renounce participation in ghostwriting, and to ensure that unscrupulous relationships between industry and academia are avoided rather than courted.