Court documents uncovered in a California lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline over its antidepressant Paxil show that the big pharmaceutical company made extensive use of ghostwriters to promote its drug, later found to be highly addictive and to cause suicidal thoughts in some cases, the Associated Press reports.
WASHINGTON — Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline used a sophisticated ghostwriting program to promote its antidepressant Paxil, allowing doctors to take credit for medical journal articles mainly written by company consultants, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press.
An internal company memo instructs salespeople to approach physicians and offer to help them write and publish articles about their positive experiences prescribing the drug.
Known as the CASPPER program, the paper explains how the company can help physicians with everything from "developing a topic," to "submitting the manuscript for publication."
The document was uncovered by the Baum Hedlund PC law firm of Los Angeles, which is representing hundreds of former Paxil users in personal injury and wrongful death suits against GlaxoSmithKline. The firm alleges the company downplayed several risks connected with its drug, including increased suicidal behavior and birth defects.
A spokeswoman for London-based Glaxo said the published articles noted any assistance to the main authors.
"The program was not heavily used and was discontinued a number of years ago," said Mary Anne Rhyne.
According to the memo, which dates from April 2000, the CASPPER program was designed to "strengthen the product positioning and overcome competitive issues."
The stroy says Glaxo played a big role in preparing articles for publication.
According to ghostwriting expert Dr. Leemon McHenry, Glaxo's program was unusually intertwined with its internal sales and marketing department.
"We know that GSK has engaged in ghostwriting for many years," said McHenry, who works as a research consultant for Baum Hedlund. "But to create an internal ghostwriting program and have the gall to name it after a cartoon ghost demonstrates their juvenile attitude and careless disregard for patients."
The story draws Glaxo into a scandal that has focused most recently on Wyeth's use of ghostwriters to promote its hormone replacement therapy drug Premarin. There have been several Wyeth stories of late, thanks to a court motion by the New York Times and PLoS Medicine to unseal boxes of court documents.
Meanwhile, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley has asked his country respected National Institutes of Health to explain what it's doing to address ghostwriting.