Ghostwriters overstate drug benefits, downplay flip side

The first analysis of the 1,500 documents, unsealed in recent litigation against pharma giant Wyeth (now part of Pfizer), reveals unprecedented insights into how such companies use ghostwriters to insert marketing messages into articles published in medical journals.

Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC, analysed dozens of ghostwritten reviews and commentaries published in medical journals and journal supplements.
They were used to promote unproven benefits and downplay harms of Prempro -- a brand of menopausal hormone therapy (HT) -- and to cast competing therapies in a negative light.

These articles were widely circulated to medical representatives and doctors to disseminate the company's marketing messages, reports the journal Public Library of Science.

Wyeth used a medical education and communication company, DesignWrite, to produce ghostwritten articles in order to mitigate the perceived risks of breast cancer associated with menopausal hormone therapy, according to a Georgetown University release.
The analysis revealed that DesignWrite was paid $25,000 to ghostwrite articles reporting clinical trials, including four manuscripts on the trials of low-dose Prempro.

DesignWrite was also assigned to write 20 review articles about the drug, for which they were paid $20,000 each.

The analysis concludes: "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."

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