Drug Co. Accused of Funding Stories
DALLAS (AP) _ A company that manufactured part of the diet drug combo fen-phen hired ghostwriters for articles promoting obesity treatment and then used prominent researchers to publish the works under their names, according to lawsuit evidence cited in a newspaper report on Sunday.
The legal action claims that Wyeth-Ayers Laboratories, which made the ``fen″ half of the drug combination, hid health risks associated with the drugs. The company allegedly tried to play down or remove descriptions of side effects from the articles, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Only two of the 10 articles paid for by Wyeth actually were published in medical journals before the company pulled the drugs from the market in September 1997, when studies linked the combo to heart valve damage and an often-fatal lung disease. Plans to publish the eight others were canceled.
Officials at Wyeth, a division of American Home Products Corp., defended the articles.
``This is a common practice in the industry. It’s not particular to us,″ Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said. ``The companies have some input, it seems, in the initial development of the piece ... but the proposed author has the last say.″
However, medical ethicists and editors of prominent medical journals criticized the practice.
``What they’re doing here is clearly an advertisement, but it’s couched in a scientifically valid paper,″ said Dr. Robert M. Tenery Jr., a Dallas ophthalmologist and chairman of the American Medical Association’s council on ethical and judicial affairs.
One of the published researchers, Dr. Albert J. Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania, said he had no idea that Wyeth financed or edited his article. Had he known, he would not have participated, he said. He said he threw away the first draft supplied by an intermediary medical writing company and wrote his own work.
``It’s really deceptive,″ said Stunkard, whose article was published in the American Journal of Medicine in February 1996. ``It sort of makes you uneasy.″
The ``fen″ in fen-phen refers to Pondimin (fenfluramine) and Redux (dexfenfluramine), both sold by Wyeth. Phentermine, the other half of the combo, is not made by Wyeth and is still available.
Six million people in the United States took Pondimin or Redux. Individuals who took the weight-loss combo have filed thousands of lawsuits nationwide.
Wyeth and a company it acquired hired Excerpta Medica, Inc., to write the 10 articles, according to lawsuit documents cited by the Morning News.
Excerpta, based in Belle Mead, N.J., planned to submit most of the papers to medical journals owned by its parent company, Reed Elsevier Plc, the newspaper reported.
The Morning News reported that Wyeth officials said in depositions that the two published articles were reviewed for fairness by independent panels at the journals in which they appeared.
``The articles were not written with a slant toward selling the product,″ said Dr. Jo Alene Dolan, Wyeth’s former associate director of clinical affairs, in a Jan. 15 deposition cited by the newspaper. ``The articles are written with fair balance.″