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Several weeks ago, we wrote about how professional ghostwriters, rather than doctors or researchers, are often hired to produce many of the drug company studies published under the names of reputable scientists.

Evidence in the Merck lawsuits over Vioxx revealed that the company paid a number of researchers handsomely to allow their names to be pasted onto research studies that they didn’t write themselves, and played little to no part in overseeing.

This week, we learned that Wyeth—the pharmaceutical maker of Phenergan, recently in the preemption spotlight for causing gangrene when administered improperly—also paid ghostwriters to produce articles in medical journals praising its female hormone replacement therapy Prempro. Wyeth also kept the ghostwriters’ role in the articles a secret from the medical journal editors and readers.

Disturbingly, at least one Wyeth sponsored article was published after a federal study found that taking Prempro raised breast cancer risks. Now Congress is writing to Wyeth to find out exactly what kind of financial arrangements the company had with medical ghostwriting firms and the doctors whose names were misleadingly placed on their work.

“Any attempt to manipulate the scientific literature, that can in turn mislead doctors to prescribe drugs that may not work and/or cause harm to their patients, is very troubling,” Mr. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, wrote Friday to Wyeth’s chairman and chief executive, Bernard J. Poussot. (…)

One article was published as an “Editors’ Choice” feature in May 2003 in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, more than a year after a big federal study called the Women’s Health Initiative linked Wyeth’s Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin, to breast cancer. The May 2003 article said there was “no definitive evidence” that progestins cause breast cancer and added that hormone users had a better chance of surviving cancer. –Duff Wilson, The New York Times

In 2001, when hormone replacement therapy was widely used in America, Wyeth sales were upwards of $3 billion. After the federal study linking Prempro to breast cancer, hormone prescriptions drastically slowed.

It was at that point that my mother’s ob-gyn literally told her to stop taking Prempro, and plant it under her rose bushes instead. She did it: they grew like crazy.

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