Documents unsealed as part of a lawsuit against drug giant Wyeth Pharmaceuticals reveal that the company used ghostwriters to prepare at least 40 medical journal articles promoting the use of its hormone-replacement drug Prempro.
Hormone replacement therapy drugs such as Premarin and Prempro were widely popular in the 1990s among women seeking to avoid the symptoms of menopause. The drugs became some of Wyeth’s best sellers, raking in more than $2 billion for the company until a 2002 study showed that they significantly increased women’s risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Later research also implicated the drugs in an increase dementia risk among the elderly.
Use of hormone replacement therapy plummeted, with a corresponding drop in breast cancer rates. Since then, approximately 8,400 lawsuits have been filed against drugmakers Wyeth and Pfizer by more than 10,000 women affected by side effects. More than 8,000 of these lawsuits have been consolidated into a single case, before U.S. District Judge William Wilson in Arkansas.
Wilson ordered Wyeth’s ghostwriting documents unsealed in response to a request by the defendants, the journal PLoS Medicine and the New York Times. The documents reveal that between 1997 and 2005, Wyeth paid medical communications firms to ghostwrite at least 40 articles that promoted hormone replacement for treatment of not just menopause symptoms, but also other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. These articles, many of them reviews of prior studies, played up the benefits of the hormone drugs while downplaying their risks. The communications firms also secured doctors to put their names on the studies as authors.
The articles were published in 18 different medical journals. Neither Wyeth nor the studies’ purported authors informed the journals that the company had funded the studies and employed their writers.