Two new studies into the painkiller Vioxx have once again raised concerns about how drug companies influence the interpretation and publication of medical research.
The reports claim Merck & Co regularly paid academic scientists to take credit for research articles prepared by company-hired medical writers, a practice known as ghostwriting.
The Journal of the American Medical Association articles allege Merck attempted to minimise deaths in two studies that showed that the now withdrawn Vioxx didn’t work at treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Merck rejected the reports, calling them “false and misleading”.
Five writers of the articles were paid consultants for people who sued Merck over Vioxx’s heart and stroke risks; the sixth testified about Merck and Vioxx’s heart risks before a Senate panel.
Merck says those connections makes the reports themselves biased.
While Merck is singled out, the practice is not uncommon, according to JAMA‘s editors. In an editorial, they urge strict reforms, including a ghostwriting crackdown and requiring all authors to spell out their specific roles.
Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, JAMA‘s editor-in-chief, said those are already policies at JAMA but not at many other journals.
DeAngelis said doctors, medical researchers and journal editors bear some responsibility for those harms.
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“This is a bad publishing culture and companies should be excluded by the journal from publishing further papers.” – Dr Anton Baer, Germany
“The companies are the first to be blamed, but I believe that the scientists that take the credit for a paper that they didn’t write should suffer some kind of penalty too. And their articles should be subject to rigorous scrutiny before being accepted for a serious journal.” – Ana Costa, Lisbon, Portugal
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