Wyeth, a US-based multi-national, has been caught paying ghostwriters for medical journal articles promoting its hormone replacement therapy Prempro.
And it continued with the tactic even after a federal study found the drug raised the risk of breast cancer.
Senator Charles E. Grassley has called upon Wyeth and DesignWrite, a medical writing company, to disclose payments for preparation of journal articles and for doctors who allowed their names to be used as authors.
The letters are part of a continuing investigation by Mr. Grassley, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, into drug industry influence on doctors, New York Times reports.
"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.
Doug Petkus, a Wyeth spokesman, said Friday that Mr. Grassley was recycling old arguments.
"The authors of the articles in question, none of whom were paid, exercised substantive editorial control over the content of the articles and had the final say, in all respects, over the content," Mr. Petkus said.
Officials for DesignWrite, a Princeton, N.J., firm, and its parent company, JMI, a medical information company in New York, did not return multiple phone calls and e-mail messages requesting comment.
Mr. Grassley's staff on the Senate Finance Committee released dozens of pages of internal corporate documents gathered from lawsuits showing the central, previously undisclosed role of Wyeth and DesignWrite in creating articles promoting hormone therapy for menopausal women as far back as 1997.
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 progestin caused breast cancer and added that hormone users had a better chance of surviving cancer.
At the peak of hormone therapy, in 2001, more than 126 million prescriptions for such drugs were written for women in the United States. Sales that year, primarily by Wyeth, were $3 billion. But after the federal finding, sales of the hormone drugs plummeted.
The drugs, which contain cancer warnings on the label, are still approved to treat severe symptoms of menopause, but their use is advised at only the lowest possible doses.
The documents show company executives came up with ideas for medical journal articles, titled them, drafted outlines, paid writers to draft the manuscripts, recruited academic authors and identified publications to run the articles — all without disclosing the companies' roles to journal editors or readers.
The issue of ghostwriting for medical journals has been raised in the past, involving various companies and drugs, including the Merck painkiller Vioxx, which was withdrawn in 2004 after it was linked to heart problems, and Wyeth's diet pills, Redux and Pondimin, withdrawn in 1997 after being linked to heart and lung problems.
But the documents Mr. Grassley released Friday provide a detailed look at the practice — from the conception of ideas for journal articles through the distribution of reprints.
The documents include a "publication plan tracking report" by Wyeth showing 10 articles in which manuscripts were completed by the company before they were sent to the putative author for review. Any revisions were subject to final approval from the company, according to the tracking report.
Such activities would seem to run afoul of medical journal guidelines. The World Association of Medical Editors, for example, says ghost authorship — which it defines as a substantial contribution not mentioned in the manuscript — is "dishonest and unacceptable."
In Friday's letter, Mr. Grassley asked Wyeth to list all scientific reports prepared for the company by DesignWrite since Jan. 1, 1995, to describe the named authors' "extent of involvement" and to disclose fees paid to DesignWrite, authors and others.
The May 2003 article supporting Prempro was signed by Dr. John Eden, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales and director of the Sydney Menopause Center in Australia. Wyeth executives suggested that Dr. Eden write such a paper in 2000, according to the documents, and had the outline and draft manuscript written for him. It was published in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology — with no mention of Wyeth or DesignWrite connections.
Thomas Reller, the director of corporate relations for Elsevier, which owns the obstetrics journal, said he had not had time yet to review the specific article cited by Mr. Grassley, but Elsevier follows strict industry standards.