Did the American Heart Association's Circulation journal publish a ghostwritten article about Avandia? There has been disagreement about this ever since the US Senate Finance Committee released a report in July about the controversy concerning the GlaxoSmithKline diabetes pill. Glaxo, you may recall, once ran a program aptly named Cassper, or Case Study Publications for Peer Review, which was designed to assist researchers with their articles.
At the time, the committee sent a wad of documents to the FDA that contained emails and drafts of different manuscripts. One appeared slated for the American Journal of Cardiology and the lead author was Baylor College's Steve Haffner (see this). Also included was a draft manuscript of a study destined for Circulation (see attachments H and I).
Since then, however, the AHA has been in a tizzy over the accusation that Circulation ran a ghostwritten Avandia article. In a sharply worded Aug. 23 letter to FDA commish Margaret Hamburg, the AHA takes umbrage with the committee's facts, and points out the example cited by the committee was never published in Circulation. "...some of the information is in error and requires correction or clarification, particularly as it relates to Circulation," writes AHA’s Scientific Publishing Committee Donna Arnett.
The letter was sent after an AHA lobbyist Sue Nelson implored a staffer at the Senate Finance Committee to correct the record. In particular, she complained that Paul Thacker, a staffer for US Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, was refusing to cooperate and impugned the AHA's integrity by suggesting the organization accepted funding from drugmakers, specifically referring to the Vytorin scandal (read this).
"Our editors (who pride themselves in not publishing ghostwritten work) are very upset," Nelson wrote in an Aug. 11 email to the committee. "There are clearly patient groups who are fronts for drug companies and it’s in all of our best interests that they be exposed. We are not one of those. If we were, I wouldn’t be working here. We represent the best interest of patients, which means working with drug and device companies from time to time, but our firewalls are strict. I can tell you that our advocacy work has never been influenced in any way by their interests and even in these tough fiscal times, our program work remains separate as well...Our editors really take their jobs seriously and believe that their integrity has been brought into question."
In response, the Senate Finance Committee has now clarified the record by sending this letter to Hamburg pointing out that its original attachments did, indeed, contain a draft manuscript of an Avandia article that was ghostwritten. "At the time (of the July report), it was unclear if the emails about ghostwriting concerned the article that appeared in Circulation, or if they were discussing a separate manuscript. Regardless, my staff has consulted with GSK, and the company confirmed that the manuscript which appeared in Circulation was written for GSK by a medical education company," Grassley writes. The lead author, by the way, was Haffner.
The expression 'doth protest too much' comes to mind.