Makers 'ghost' drugs reviews
By Rosie Murray-West, City Correspondent
The pharmaceutical industry routinely bribes doctors and "ghostwrites"
articles about drugs in major medical journals, MPs were told yesterday.
Professor David Healy, of the University of Wales, told the Commons health
select committee that as many as half the articles published in journals
such as the British Medical Journal and The Lancet were written by members
of the industry who had a vested interest in selling the drugs involved.
Respected clinicians were then paid to have their names put at the top of
the articles, he claimed, even though they had not seen the raw data on
which they were based.
He said "ghostwritten" articles had far more of an effect on which drugs
doctors prescribe than Caribbean conferences where doctors were given
massages and "loaded down" with bags of gifts.
"The problem isn't the adverts, the problem isn't the trips to the
Caribbean," he said. "We are influenced by articles in journals."
He said he had been asked to put his name to an article, but had not done
so. He then saw the same article bearing the name of Siegfried Kasper, from
the Department of General Psychiatry at the University of Vienna.
The committee, which is holding an inquiry into the influence of the
pharmaceutical industry, was told by another doctor that he had been
offered two years' salary to suppress data about a drug.
Dr Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury
Hospital, said: "I know the pharmaceutical industry influences the research
that is published. I suspect this is as common now as ever. I think it is
very common. People are influenced by opinion leaders who are paid
consultants to the company."
The pharmaceutical industry is reeling from the recent withdrawal of the
rheumatoid arthritis drug, Vioxx, and widespread concerns over the
anti-depressant Seroxat being prescribed for children.
At yesterday's hearing, Graham Vidler, head of policy for the Consumers'
Association, said the industry's concern with profits and shareholders was
"in direct conflict with the responsibilities of the NHS".
After the hearing, a spokesman for the Association of the British
Pharmaceutical Industry said there was some doubt that the committee was
approaching the issue constructively.
He said there was "nothing wrong" with articles in major medical journals
being written up for a clinician by a company "as long as the person has
seen the article and signed it off".
"It is quite wrong if people are putting their names to something they
A spokesman for the British Medical Journal said: "The BMJ asks authors to
state that they accept full responsibility for the conduct of the study,
had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish.
"We also publish contributorship statements for each piece of research,
which show exactly what each contributor has done."
A spokesman for The Lancet said Prof Healy's comments were "a wild
Dr Des Spence, who runs the British arm of No Free Lunch - a campaign
against the industry's influence on doctor's prescriptions, attacked the
"widespread hospitality culture", which saw doctors accepting lunches from
pharmaceutical companies every single day.
"If civil servants, teachers or policemen were receiving this level of
hospitality there would be a public outcry," he said. "However, there is
some idea that doctors are anointed by God - this simply isn't true."
He said doctors were just a cross-section of the population, and easily
influenced, but they don't complain "because it would be like complaining
that Father Christmas gave too many presents this year".
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