This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

PM – Doctors concerned about bogus research pushed by drug companies
Doctors concerned about bogus research pushed by drug companies

PM – Friday, 11 February , 2005  18:34:00

Reporter: Toni Hassan

PAUL LOCKYER: Doctors who find themselves under assault from pharmaceutical companies marketing their products now have another problem to worry about.

The publishers of medical journals are tonight warning that the drugs industry is increasingly trying to infiltrate medical literature with its own research, dressed up as science.

Respected journals have received manuscripts apparently written by research scientists that editors have later discovered to have been authored, in part, by drug companies.

PM has learnt of one case involving one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, AstraZeneca, and a drug that’s trying to compete with the blood thinning product, Warfarin.

Toni Hassan prepared this report.

TONI HASSAN: Publishers of medical journals say they are increasingly aware of a practice by drug manufacturers known as ghost authorship. That’s when a company contacts an academic to collect some data, which the company then uses to write a paper, usually supporting the use of their drug. But the company as part author never appears on the research paper.

SIMON CHAPMAN: Time and again, research has shown that those who pay the piper do call the tune, and that you can predict, by and large, the direction of findings from the people who are paying for that research to be conducted.

TONI HASSAN: Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney. He says researchers are increasingly tempted to work in this way.

SIMON CHAPMAN: But I think the down side of that, is that industry doesn’t often have the same dispassionate culture with its respect for truth at all costs that universities have had for centuries.

TONI HASSAN: PM has received a copy of an email from the publisher of one US medical journal sent to other editors around the globe. The email points to a potentially alarming case of ghost authorship.

The case involves a competitor to Warfarin, the successful trade-name drug used to prevent blood clots. The drugs giant, AstraZeneca, hired a medical education company to do research on Warfarin and its interactions with herbal medication.

The resulting paper, not favourable to Warfarin, was submitted for publication without the author identifying that he was hired by Warfarin’s competitor, AstraZeneca. A peer review of the paper notes that the research ignored other clinical trials in the field, and describes the manuscript as Warfarin-bashing exercise to pave the way for the acceptance of a new competing drug.

Most medical journals now require authors to sign a competing interest statement that encourages disclosure of financial arrangements or relationships that may compete.

SIMON CHAPMAN: If a person does have a competing interest. That is not to say that they have cut corners, that the science of what they’re doing is corrupt. But it is part of the information that I think every consumer and every health professional is entitled to have, in order to weigh and balance up the findings that they’re reading

TONI HASSAN: Even so, Professor Chapman questions the effectiveness of a competing interest statement.

SIMON CHAPMAN: Many journals are run on the smell of an oil rag, by dedicated enthusiasts working in universities who don’t get paid for their editorial duties, and who simply don’t have the time to start investigating. It’s all down to trust.

TONI HASSAN: The issue for patients continues to be – can they be sure their doctors’ are relying on objective research about the latest drugs? It doesn’t help that drug companies fund almost all drug research but sometimes keep secret scientific work that does not favour their products.

Now in an attempt to find a solution to the problem, medical publishers have rallied together and persuaded the US National Institute of Health to create a randomised drug trial registry – a register independent of industry. After some pressure pharmaceutical giants have in recent weeks agreed to participate

MARTYN VAN DER WEYDEN: I think this is a giant step forward.

TONI HASSAN: Martin Van Der Weyden is the Editor of the Medical Journal of Australia and one of those behind the change.

MARTYN VAN DER WEYDEN: This is revolutionary. The simple power of the pen, of medical editors, has changed this. And now we’re in the process of negotiating, as to what should be put on the registry and what shouldn’t be put on the registry.

TONI HASSAN: And so what are the implications for us, for each of us as patients and consumers?

MARTYN VAN DER WEYDEN: Well, the implication, for even myself as editor, is I’m publishing the truth. The implication for you as a consumer is the fact that you can be more confident that the information that a doctor uses in prescribing a drug, is more accurate, than if it wasn’t sort of, guided by this sort of umbrella.

PAUL LOCKYER: The editor of the Medical Journal of Australia, Martyn Van Der Weyden, with Toni Hassan.