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Maker of Vioxx Is Accused of Deception
A later message to Merck from the same contractor noted that the journal had sent back one of those articles with a request for revisions, and that the author was forwarding "the entire packet" to Scientific Therapeutics Information to do the rewrite.
A letter to Merck from Health Science Communications of New York contains an invoice for a 20-page manuscript of a review "for Cardiology Audience" with authors "TBD" -- to be determined -- and a charge of $23,841.
Together, the documents suggest that Merck or its contractors ran studies and wrote review papers, and then recruited high-profile academic physicians to be the main authors even though they did only a small amount of work. Some received honoraria for this service.
"The idea is, 'We'll supply the review paper and you can edit it,' " said Joseph S. Ross, a physician at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who did the analysis (and who has been paid by plaintiffs suing Merck). "I think it is scientific fraud. The important thing is the medical profession needs to decide for itself whether it is fraud."
Fitzpatrick, Merck's attorney, said: "It is correct that Merck would sometimes use an outside company to compile the literature in a field and do the first draft, much the way a professor would use a research assistant to do the same thing."
Neither contractor responded to requests for comment, but several authors defended their work.
A draft of one of the dementia papers found in the court documents listed nine Merck employees and the notation "External author?" The version published in a medical journal was very similar -- which Ross took as indirect evidence that the paper was essentially finished before the "external authors" were recruited.
But Steven H. Ferris, a neuropsychologist at New York University School of Medicine who is listed as the second author, said it is not true. He said he was on a committee that reviewed the clinical records of 195 patients who received diagnoses of Alzheimer's during the study -- a task that took many hours, and for which he was paid.
"I was directly involved in a very substantive way," he said this week. "If an entity like JAMA is going to make an effort to expose a problem, they better get their facts straight. It is harmful if they don't."