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Big pharma paid ghostwriters to push hormone therapy

Wyeth paid for 26 scientific papers that were published in medical journals

According to the New York Times, newly released court documents show that ghostwriters paid by pharmaceutical company Wyeth played a major role in the production of 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women. This, says the Times, suggests that the level of hidden industry influence on medical literature is broader than previously known.

“The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones to protect against maladies like aging skin, heart disease and dementia. That supposed medical consensus benefited Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that paid a medical communications firm to draft the papers, as sales of its hormone drugs, called Premarin and Prempro, soared to nearly $2 billion in 2001.

But the seeming consensus fell apart in 2002 when a huge federal study on hormone therapy was stopped after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. A later study found that hormones increased the risk of dementia in older patients.”

The ghostwritten papers were mostly review articles, in which an author weighs a large amount of medical research and comes to a bottom-line conclusion on the best way to treat a particular malady. The articles appeared in 18 medical journals, and did not disclose Wyeth’s role in initiating and paying for the work.

Doug Petkus, a spokesman for Wyeth, says the articles on hormone therapy were scientifically sound and subjected to rigorous review by outside experts on behalf of the medical journals that published them. The company is now facing about 8,400 lawsuits from women who claim that Wyeth’s hormone drugs caused them to develop illnesses.

Although Wyeth continues to work with medical writing firms, the company adopted a policy in 2006 mandating that authors become involved early in the publication process and that any financial assistance by Wyeth or contributions by medical writers be acknowledged in the published text, says Stephen Urbanczyk, one of Wyeth’s lawyers.

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