Adventures in Ghostwriting: Big Pharma’s Very Own Textbook

A major drug maker and its consultants provided substantial content for a medical text that was later credited to a pair of prominent physicians, The New York Times reports.

The book–“Recognition and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychopharmacology Handbook for Primary Care”– was published in 1999, and ostensibly co-authored by Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, currently chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami medical school, and Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg, who until last year was chairman of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Its purpose was to advise family doctors on the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

The authors acknowledged in the preface having received a “unrestricted educational grant” from a major pharmaceutical company in support of the book, but court documents reviewed by The Times reveal far greater involvement by the company, then known as SmithKline Beecham, now as GlaxoSmithKline.

The documents were obtained by the law firm Baum Hedlund as part of a lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline. They show that the consulting firm, Scientific Therapeutics Information, was paid to develop an outline for the book, and then to “show three drafts directly to the pharmaceutical company for comments and ‘sign-off’ and page proofs for ‘final approval.'”

Both authors minimized the scope of involvement with the book by SmithKline Beecham. Dr. Schatzberg told the Times, “An unrestricted grant does not give the company any right of sign-off on content and in fact they had no sign-off in content,” and said that their sponsors “had no involvement in content.”

However, this statement appears to have been contradicted by numerous documents, including a 1997 letter from Scientific Therapeutics that boasted of putting together “a complete content outline” and of having “begun development of the text.”

While there have been a spate of recent stories on ghostwritten articles for medical journals and the consequent conflicts of interest, this is the first known account of a comparable scheme to pen an entire textbook.

“To ghostwrite an entire textbook is a new level of chutzpah,” Dr. David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told the Times. “I’ve never heard of that before. It takes your breath away.”

The book was never in wide circulation, and hasn’t been on the market for several years.

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One comment to “Adventures in Ghostwriting: Big Pharma’s Very Own Textbook”

  1. Nick

    I am not surprised at all to learn this. Every day in my travels and in my work I run into people online who criticize things like advocating for alkaline diets or stressing the importance of drinking high alkaline water. At first I just thought they were dull minded Liberals just following dogma. But then I realized that it is more likely that they are paid pundits unleashed to protect the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical drug haven.

    They hire doctors, lawyers and scientists to constantly try to discredit the health and wellness industry. They are such fools. With each of us advocates connected to tens of thousands of people through social networks, they have no hope of winning the game. It is like a dam with ten million leaks. The truth is out and it’s not good news for big pharma.

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