April 03, 2010
Scientist `deceived' by drugs giant
By Richard Guilliatt
A LEADING Australian medical researcher says the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth duped him into publishing a scientific paper that became part of the company's clandestine campaign to play down the dangers of its drugs for menopausal women.
John Eden, an associate professor at the University of NSW and director of the Sydney Menopause Centre, says he has been shocked to learn that a paper he published in the prestigious American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology was one of more than 40 scientific articles Wyeth orchestrated to try to increase sales of its lucrative hormone-replacement drugs.
Dr Eden was last month cleared of an allegation that "ghostwriters" employed by Wyeth wrote his article but he acknowledges that internal drug company documents obtained by The Weekend Australian show the company misled him about its real agenda and its behind-the-scenes role in his paper.
"I was deceived," he said, adding that his trust in the drug industry had been shaken.
Dr Eden's denunciation of Wyeth goes to the heart of an unfolding medical controversy -- how hugely profitable pharmaceutical companies promote their drugs by covertly paying for ghostwritten or favourable research articles.
In December 2008, the US Senate finance committee announced it was investigating whether a large number of prominent menopause researchers -- among them Dr Eden -- had put their names to ghostwritten scientific articles devised and paid for by Wyeth. At the time, Dr Eden refused to comment other than saying he stood by his article, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2003 under the title Progestins and Breast Cancer'.
But since late last year the controversy has widened with the release of hundreds of internal Wyeth documents previously kept under seal in US courts.
The documents reveal that Wyeth paid a US "medical communications" company called DesignWrite to produce more than 40 scientific papers on hormone-replacement drugs between 1997 and 2005, a period when evidence was emerging that the drugs significantly increased a woman's risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke.
Wyeth's menopause drugs were once the biggest-selling pharmaceuticals in the US, grossing $US2 billion a year.
Speaking in detail about the controversy for the first time, Dr Eden acknowledged that Wyeth suggested he write the article after inviting him to a company-sponsored symposium in New York in June 2000. Wyeth was at the time preparing to launch a new pill containing the hormone progestin, and Dr Eden's research indicated progestin in high doses was beneficial to women with breast cancer.
The documents show that a Wyeth marketing executive had offered Dr Eden the assistance of "knowledgeable and gifted writers" who could help turn his research into a published paper.
Wyeth came up with the title of the paper and DesignWrite paid a freelance science writer $US3000 to draft an 11-page "outline" which was sent to Dr Eden after being scrutinised by Wyeth's marketing department.
Dr Eden acknowledges he received editorial assistance in drafting and revising the paper but denies it was ghostwritten.
He says the paper was based on his research and was controlled by him without any influence or payment to him from Wyeth.
But he says he is angry and offended to discover that Wyeth had a hidden commercial agenda and was scrutinising the article behind his back.
"If I had any idea, I would have said forget it," he says.
Dr Eden's published paper failed to acknowledge Wyeth's assistance, which he admits was a "mistake".
The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology launched an investigation into the Eden paper after it was named in the US Senate investigation. Two weeks ago, the journal informed Dr Eden it was satisfied the paper was not ghostwritten and said no further action would be taken.
A spokesman for Pfizer, which acquired Wyeth last year for $US68bn, denied that the articles Wyeth sponsored were ghostwritten, saying the authors had full control of their content.
At least one of the named authors, however, has admitted his paper was written for him.
Leon Speroff emailed DesignWrite to congratulate it on its "super job" of writing his paper, and says he sees nothing wrong with the practice.