The Best Research Money Can Buy

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

Where did the medical community get the idea that Vioxx, Trovan and Baycol were safe and the benefits of Prempro, Neurontin and bisphosphonates outweighed their risks? From research published in medical journals written by drug companies or drug-company funded authors.

Scratch the surface of many blockbuster drugs that went on to be discredited, or even withdrawn as risks emerged, and an elaborate “publication plan” emerges, developed by the drug company’s marketing firm. For example, at least 50 articles promoting hormone replacement drugs like Prempro were planted in medical journals by Pfizer’s (then Wyeth) marketing firm DesignWrite, according to documents posted on the University of California, San Francisco’s Drug Industry Document Archive.

“Is There an Association Between Hormone Replacement Therapy and Breast Cancer?” one such article in the Journal of Women’s Health, planted by DesignWrite, is titled[i]–concluding that there is not. A second paper, supplied by DesignWrite and appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine,[ii] is titled “The Role of Hormone Replacement Therapy in the Prevention of Postmenopausal Heart Disease.” A third, also from DesignWrite, in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is titled “The Role of Hormone Therapy in the Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.”[iii] Though the marketing firm’s “science” is egregiously flawed–HT has strong links to breast cancer, heart disease[iv] and Alzheimer’s–the papers have not been retracted.

Another example is Parke-Davis/Pfizer’s publication plan to make seizure drug Neurontin become the prescribed drug of choice for migraines, bipolar disorder and other conditions for which it was not
approved. In just three years, Parke-Davis planted 13 ghostwritten articles in medical journals promoting off-label uses for Neurontin including a supplement to the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine that Parke-Davis made into 43,000 reprints for its reps to disseminate.

Researching, writing and submitting papers to medical journals–and reworking and finessing them if accepted–is a demanding, time consuming job which drug companies have made into pay dirt. Court obtained documents at the UCSF Drug Industry Document Archive show drug companies’ “publication plans” for their products–elaborate grids with the names of journals where papers have run, are slated to run, have been submitted and have been resubmitted, the marketing firms apparently not taking “no” for answer. Do the journals know they are part of such machinations?

As hot new drug classes are rushed to market and net billions in a few years only to crash and burn from undisclosed risks and lawsuits (think: SSRI antidepressants, atypical antipsychotics, long acting beta agonist asthma drugs (LABAs) and antiepileptic drugs) some blame journals for publishing marketing disguised as science and serving as de facto medical stenographers. In addition to ad sales, journals can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from reprints of articles that the drug companies want to disseminate.

Under criticism, medical and scientific journals have tried to improve their disclosure of authors’ financial links to industry–but not too hard. Often the disclosures are relegated to a barely readable paragraph linking authors identified by initials not names to 60 or more drug companies. Worse, the disclosures don’t appear in abstract databases like PubMed but are hidden behind a financial firewall available only to paid subscribers who have access to the full articles.

But planting drug industry-funded papers that extol new drugs or smooth over safety concerns is too lucrative for journals or drug companies to quit. The latest case is TNF (tumor necrosis factor) blocker drugs such as Humira, Remicide, Enbrel and Cimzia which are the drug industry’s new profit center now that so many blockbuster pills have gone off patent.

The conditions such biologic drugs treat–rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and plaque psoriasis–are rare but drug companies now call them underdiagnosed and offer quizzes to help patients self diagnose. Watch out. Worse, papers written by drug industry-funded authors are appearing in journals to minimize the many dangerous side effects that accompany TNF blockers because they suppress the immune system. Recently research by drug industry-funded authors has appeared in medical journals to dispel data linking TNF blockers to increasing incidences of hospitalizations, malignancies,[v] cardiovascular events and Herpes zoster. Looks like another publication plan.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

This article was part of a TED lecture by Ben Goldacre, MD. Martha Rosenberg’s newly published book, Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health (Prometheus) has been favorably reviewed by PLOS Medicine and the medical community.

Notes.

[i] 1998 Dec; 7(10): 1231-46

[ii] 2000 Aug; 14-28; 160(15): 2263-72

[iii] 2002 Sep 23;162(17):1934-42?

[v] Maria Suarez-Almazor has received speaker fees from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche and consultant fees from Amgen

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2780484/

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal