Revised on December 22, 2010. Additional information.
The New York Times ran a story yesterday (and subsequent correction) about a POGO investigation which uncovered millions of dollars that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been giving to medical researchers who use ghostwriters funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
POGO sent the NIH four examples of this behavior, but the Times decided to focus on the case of Drs. Charles Nemeroff and Alan Schatzberg, who signed their names to a handbook for doctors that had entire portions written by the marketing firm Scientific Therapeutics Information (STI). The whole thing was paid for by pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which was using STI to push sales of the antidepressant Paxil.
When the book was published, the authors acknowledged the “editorial assistance” of the marketing firm, and thanked GSK for an “unrestricted educational grant.”
Documents acquired by POGO provide a dramatically different narrative.
In a letter to Dr. Nemeroff, an STI employee laid out a timeline for completing the book. This timeline states that GSK would receive drafts of the handbook and page proofs for final approval. POGO also released a draft of the text written by STI, which mirrors language in the published handbook.
The Times reported that Nemeroff and Schatzberg received a 15% royalty on the $120,000 in sales. The Times also reported that Nemeroff and Schatzberg deny what the evidence strongly suggests.
Dr. Schatzberg commented that the timeline from STI was “a theoretical proposal that bears little, if any relationship to what actually happened.”
For his part Dr. Nemeroff had the audacity to praise his corporate-funded activism. “Remarkably, the book remains quite accurate and relevant to clinical practice today,” he said.
The Stanford Daily reported on the scandal today, and both Nemeroff and Schatzberg “did not return requests for comment.” However, a spokesperson from Stanford said that both Schatzberg and the textbook’s publisher “strongly deny that the manuscript was ghostwritten.”
Neither Nemeroff nor Schatzberg is a stranger to media scrutiny. In 2006, Dr. Schatzberg was the focus of a San Jose Mercury News investigation regarding his research into a drug to treat depression. Schatzberg was leading the study and had millions invested in the company which was trying to get the drug approved. Talk about a conflict of interest.
Nemeroff has been in the press so many times for questionable behavior that recounting all his problems would require a book-length review, with a dozen ghostwriters working round the clock for months. For a brief primer, begin with this article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out that Nemeroff published an article promoting a medical device but “forgot” to note that he was being paid by the company. Another article here in the New York Times reported that Nemeroff “forgot” to disclose millions he had received from drug companies. You can read some documents here on the blog Pharmalot by searching for “Nemeroff.” Finally, the Senate Finance Committee released dozens of internal documents from Emory University regarding Nemeroff. You can read them here.
The history of these two can make you numb with outrage, but Danny Carlat has done his best to find some humor in the whole event.
We’ll have more on ghostwriting and what POGO uncovered in coming days. Stay tuned.
-- Paul Thacker