Eli Lily & Co. employees acted as ghostwriters, preparing favourable scientific papers on the company's top-selling anti-psychotic drug that later appeared in medical journals under the names of real doctors and researchers claiming to have written them.
Later non-ghostwritten articles found the drug, Zyprexa, causes added risk of developing diabetes.
Eli Lilly & Co. officials wrote medical journal studies about the anti-psychotic Zyprexa and then asked doctors to put their names on the articles, a practice called “ghostwriting,” according to unsealed company files.
Lilly employees also compiled a guide to hiring scientists to write favorable articles, complained to journal editors when publication was delayed and submitted rejected articles to other outlets, according to documents filed in drug-overpricing suits against the Indianapolis-based company, the largest manufacturer of psychiatric medicines.
Drugmakers’ use of ghostwriters has created “a huge body of medical literature that society can’t trust,” said Carl Elliott, a University of Minnesota bioethicist who has written about the practice.
Lilly sought to make Zyprexa “the number one selling psychotropic in history,” according to a 2000 plan distributed to its product team. The memo was among more than 10,000 pages of internal documents unsealed last month in lawsuits by insurers and pension funds seeking to recoup money spent on the drug. They allege Lilly exaggerated Zyprexa’s effectiveness.
“Plaintiffs are releasing one-sided, cherry-picked documents obtained in discovery to selected news media in an effort to try their cases” there, said Lilly spokeswoman Marni Lemons. “Lilly remains prepared to defend ourselves against all of these allegations in the appropriate venue, a court of law.”
Lily joins other top drug makers involved in revelations about questionable scientific studies -- and even fake scientific journals -- published as little more than marketing tools for medications that later turned out to have dangerous side effects, including Merck & Co., and Pfizer Inc.
Medical ethicists quoted in the Bloomberg story about Lily said it was akin to plagiarism for doctors and researchers allowing their names to appear on ghostwritten articles. Barton Moffatt, a Mississippi State University bioethicist, called it "academic misconduct" and predicted that as the scandal grows researchers could find themselves fired over the practice.
John Buse, a former president of the American Diabetes Association who was listed as lead author of an article prepared with a Lily staffer in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, said researchers can develop a "stockholm Syndrome" with the drug companies they're are dealing with.
“I’m not saying that the pharmaceutical industry captures me,” Buse said. “But to the extent that the relationship has something above and beyond medicine, science, you know, it could cloud one’s judgement.”
Buse added that many researchers develop emotional attachments to drugs they’ve discovered or studied extensively.
“There’s this natural tendency for people to fall in love with your drug: it’s like your child,” Buse said. “So you have a hard time accepting criticism.”
Also this week, Zyprexa was approved in the U.S. for use by teenagers.