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Wyeth Paid Ghostwriters to Promote Hormone Replacement Therapy Drugs

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26 “scientific articles”, backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005. The articles are part of a series of a newly unveiled court documents that indicate that pharmaceutical-paid ghostwriters played a major role in pushing female hormone replacement therapy for various maladies such as aging skin, heart disease and dementia. The ghostwriters specifically emphasized the benefits, while deemphasizing the risks of taking hormone replacement drugs. Overall, the medical consensus published in the articles benefited Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that paid a medical communications firm, Premarin and Prempro, to draft the articles. As a result of the positive consensus on hormone replacement therapy, sales of hormone drugs shot to nearly $2 billion in 2001.

However, the seeming consensus on the benefits of hormone replacement therapy fell apart in 2002 when a federal study on hormone therapy found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, a later study found that hormones also increased the risk of dementia in older patients. A judge ordered Wyeth to unseal their internal files as part of lawsuits over their hormone replacement drugs: the drug maker faces claims from nearly 10,000 women who say the medicines caused their breast cancer.

A majority of the ghostwritten papers were review articles, in which an article weighs a large body of medical reviews and offers a final conclusion based on the previous medical research. The articles appeared in 18 medical journals, including The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The International Journal of Cardiology. The articles did not disclose Wyeth’s role in paying for the work and Elsevier, the publisher of some of the articles, stated that it was disturbed by the allegations of ghostwriting and plans to do an investigation of its own. Moreover, a spokesman for Wyeth alleges that the articles were scientifically accurate and that it is neither an uncommon or illegitimate practice for pharmaceutical companies to routinely hire medical writing companies to assist in drafting manuscripts.