Senator Grassley Releases Medical Ghostwriting Report

The New York Times points out a new report released by Sen. Chuck Grassley on medical ghostwriting taking place in scholarly publishing. The NYT has reported on this specific topic previously but here’s a brief summary taken from Grassley’s report (full PDF from NYTimes):

Medical ghostwriting is a practice where pharmaceutical or device companies hire medical education, marketing or communications companies to draft articles that are presented to prominent physicians and scientists to sign on as authors to increase the likelihood that the article will be published in important medical journals. Ghostwritten articles include articles that are drafted by pharmaceutical or device company employees who are not acknowledged in the final publication…. The physicians and scientists agree to sign on even if they may not be intimately familiar with the underlying data or relevant research or provided limited input on the article. Authors who make little to no contribution to a publication are also referred to as “guest” authors. (page 2)

About two years ago, Senator Grassley inquired about an industry practice to get articles published in major medical journals touting the benefits of a company’s product without public disclosure that the company initiated and paid for the development of the articles. Specifically, Senator Grassley wrote to Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck) and Scientific Therapeutics Information (STI), a medical publishing company, following the publication of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  In that study the authors examined Merck’s manipulation of scientific literature through ghost writers to market the painkiller Vioxx. Notably, based on their review of court documents the authors of the JAMA article concluded that “review manuscripts were often prepared by unacknowledged authors and subsequently attributed authorship to academically affiliated investigators who often did not disclose industry financial support.” (page 1)

Similarly, in 2009, PLoS Medicine, an open-access peer-reviewed journal, made available court documents that detail how  pharmaceutical company Wyeth used ghostwriting to have positive messages about its product placed in scholarly journals.