Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ghosts Busted: Another Update

New World Association of Medical Editors Policy
The World Association of Medical Editors issued a new policy statement on ghostwriting. Its introduction states "The integrity of the published record of scientific research depends not only on the validity of the science but also on honesty in authorship." Furthermore, "The scientific record is distorted if the primary purpose of an article is to persuade readers in favor of a special interest, rather than to inform and educate, and this purpose is concealed." Thus, "WAME considers ghost authorship dishonest and unacceptable."
The policy declares that "Submitting authors bear primary responsibility for naming all contributors to manuscripts and describing their contributions." However, "Other parties, including companies—such as marketing, communications, and medical education companies who are paid to assist pharmaceutical and medical device companies in disseminating favorable messages about their products—may initiate the sequence of events for which the author is the final and most easily identified participant. These other participants are also responsible for ghost written manuscripts and addressing their roles should be part of the solution."
The policy includes the following possible sanctions for violations:
"1. publish a notice that a manuscript has been ghost written, along with the names of the responsible companies and the submitting author;
2. alert the authors' academic institutions, identifying the commercial companies;
3. provide specific names if contacted by the popular media or government organizations; and
4. share their experiences on the WAME Listserve and within other forums."
It all makes sense to me, but I wonder if any of the proposed sanctions are likely to have a powerful effect on the large health care organizations that sponsor the ghostwriting, nor the "medical education companies" that actually produce it.
Annals of Internal Medicine Announcement
Meanwhile, the Annals of Internal Medicine just put an announcement on its web-site that the journal editors are investigating the report of the ADVANTAGE trial, and "The editors will try to verify the number of cardiac events reported in The New York Times article. We will print a correction if we confirm that Lisse and colleagues reported patient outcomes incorrectly. " Sounds like a good idea, but this doesn't directly address the issue that the Times alleged that this trial was ghostwritten, and alleged that the true authorship of the trial was concealed from the journal editors and their readers. Let's see if there is more to come on this.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Report on Ghostwriting
I found a fairly scary report that the CBC put out in 2003, which I wish I had seen then. It included an interview with a ghostwriter, one of three, in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa, that the reporters found. The anonymous ghostwriter declared:
  • "I'm given an outline about what to talk about, what studies to site. [sic] They want us to be talking about the stuff that makes the drug look good. There's no discussion of certain adverse events. That's just not brought up."
  • "You're being told [by the drug company] what to do. And if you don't do it, you've lost the job."
  • "I expect that all the drug companies are doing it with all the drugs."
  • "As long as I do my job well, it's not up to me to decide how the drug is positioned. I'm just following the information I'm being given."
  • "The way I look at it, if doctors that have their name on it, that's their responsibility, not mine."
Spooky. Read it --and weep if what their anonymous interviewee said was even an approximation of the truth.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Recently published on www.brainblogger.com

The Human Injury of Lost Objectivity

If I were to rate the corruptive tactics performed by big pharmaceutical companies, the intentional corruption of implementing fabricated and unreliable results of clinical trials by pharmaceutical companies by hired third parties who manipulate these trials they sponsor because of their power to control others involved in such trials that is largely absent of regulation would be at the top of the list, and likely the most damaging to the requirement of authenticity and, more importantly, assuring the safety of the public health, as I understand that this does in fact occur.

Decades ago, clinical trials were conducted at academic settings that focused on the acquisition of knowledge and the completely objective discoveries of meds. Then, in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act was created, which allowed for such places to profit off of their discoveries that were performed for pharmaceutical companies in the past. This resulted in the creation of for-profit research trial sites, called Contract Research Organizations, which is often composed of community research sites with questionable investigators possibly void of necessary research experience or quality regarding their research purpose and ability. Since they are for- profit, with some CROs making billions of dollars a year. The trials conducted at such places are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that control and manipulate all aspects of the trial being conducted involving their med being studied in the trial. This coercion is done by various methods of deception in subtle and tacit methods. As a result, research in this manner has been transformed into a method of marketing, which includes altered results of the trial to favor the sponsor’s med. Their activities are absent of true or applied regulation, and therefore have the autonomy to create whatever they want to benefit what may be a collusive relationship between the site and the sponsor.

Further disturbing is that once the creation of the trials is completed, they are then written by ghostwriters often, although no one seems to know how often. These people are not identified and acknowledged by the sponsor, and may not be trained in clinical research overall, as they are simply freelance writers, as one does not need research training or certification in order to perform this function. Rarely do trial ghostwriters question their instructions about their assignment, which is clearly deceptive and undocumented by the sponsor. Also, these hired mystery writers are known to make about 100 grand a year. This activity removes accountability and authenticity of the possibly fabricated clinical trial even further. The corruptive act is finally completed by the sponsor hiring an author to be placed on the trial that likely had no involvement with the trial, and, along with others, was paid by the sponsor for doing this deceptive act.

To have the trial published, the sponsor pays a journal to do this in various ways, I understand, such as purchasing thousands of reprints of their study from the journal. Again, how often this process is performed is unknown, yet frequent enough to create hundreds of such false writers and research sites to support the pharmaceutical industry. So benefits of meds studied in such a malicious way potentially can harm patients and their treatment options and safety risks. The purchased reprints are distributed to the sponsor’s sales force to share the content with prescribers which may lack validity.
Such misconduct discussed so far impedes research and the scientific method with frightening ethical and harmful concerns, if in fact true based on reports by others. If so, our health care treatment with meds is now undetermined in large part with such corruptive situations, as well as the possible absence of objectivity that has been intentionally eliminated. Trust in the scientific method in this type of activity illustrated in this article is absent. More now than ever, meds are removed from the market are given black box warnings. Now I understand why this may be occurring.

Transparency and disclosure needs to happen with the pharmaceutical industry for reasons such as this as well as many others, in order to correct what we have historically relied upon for conclusive proof, which is the scientific method. More importantly, research should not be conducted in a way that the sponsor can interfere in such ways described in this article, requiring independent sites with no involvement with the drug maker. And clearly, regulation has to be enforced not selectively, but in a complete fashion regarding such matters. Public awareness would be a catalyst for this to occur, after initially experiencing a state of total disbelief that such operations actually are conducted by such people, of course. We can no longer be dependent on others for our optimal health. Knowledge is power, and is also possibly a lifesaver.

“Ethics and Science need to shake hands.” ……. Richard Cabot

Dan Abshear