Based on internal company documents revealed in Vioxx litigation, JAMA authors uncover how the company, without disclosing it, compensated ghostwriters who aren’t even doctors, to create articles for professional journals that have the potential to influence doctors and popularize drugs prescribed to the public. In the 250 documents reviewed by the authors, Merck employees either working by themselves or in collaboration with a medical publishing company helped create the study on Vioxx. They would then recruit academics or leaders in the medical field to lend their name as the lead author. For scientific review papers, Merck would outline the plan for the manuscript then ghostwriters were hired from medical publishing companies, which typically pay about $20,000 per submission to the ghostwriter.
The scientist then recruited to be the named author would be offered honoraria for their participation.
This review in JAMA finds that among 96 published articles, 92 percent of clinical trials disclosed Merck,s financial support. But only half disclosed Merck’s involvement in the creation of the publication or whether the author had received compensation. In another JAMA article in the same issue, the documents suggest the company’s control of the data allowed it to downplay the risk of death from Vioxx in patients with Alzheimers disease.
Vioxx was taken off the market in 2004 but not before it was linked to an increase in heart attack and strokes. The FDA says the drug lead to up to 139,000 heart attacks, 30-40 percent of them fatal.
Litigation followed and ultimately resulted in a $4.85 billion settlement against Merck to settle U.S. cases. The internal company documents were released as part of?the settlement.