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Thursday, April 17th 2008

'Ghost' of Vioxx

So news that ghostwriters contributed to VIGOR and other Merck studies of Vioxx are making the rounds. Here’s the WSJ Health Blog on the report. The ‘revelation’ appears in what is essentially a glorified editorial in JAMA. While I don’t know about the Vioxx studies in particular ghostwriting is not something new within medical publishing and not something I find reprehensible in general. As for what Merck did in particular the JAMA editor-in-chief is flailing out,

AMA itself published one of the Vioxx studies that was cited in Dr. Ross’s article.

In that case, in 2002, a Merck scientist was listed at the lead author. But Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis, the journal’s editor, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that, even so, it was dishonest because the authors did not fully disclose the role of a ghostwriter.

“I consider that being scammed,” Dr. DeAngelis said. “But is that as serious as allowing someone to have a review article written by a for-profit company and solicited and paid for by a for-profit company and asking you to put your name on it after it was all done?”

Despite that much of the evidence in the published JAMA ‘study’ is essentially circumstantial and at least some of the accused have come forward to say that the authors of this new study are simply downright wrong.

[A]t least one of the doctors whose published research was questioned in Wednesday’s article, Dr. Steven H. Ferris, a New York University psychiatry professor, said the notion that the article bearing his name was ghostwritten was “simply false.” He said it was “egregious” that Dr. Ross and his colleagues had done no research besides mining the Merck documents and reading the published medical journal articles.

Look, Vioxx is dead and I’m just not sure there is much to be learned for future practice. The nature of what went wrong has been sensationalized ot no end and any study of the practices which led for big bad Vioxx to harm so many people will be likewise sensationalized and of little real value in reforming pharmaceutical related research and the drug approval process.