The medical community has long used scientific research to guide individual care, industry protocols, and what is known within the medical community as best practice or standard of care. With differing opinions about best treatment options, the final say often comes down to what clinical research shows—with documentation in peer-reviewed medical journals being the gold standard. However, the entangled relationship between pharmaceutical companies and medical journals is growing and it is skewing results in favor of pharmaceutical product use.
86 Percent of Clinical Trials Funded by Big Pharma
John Abramson, MD has stated that medical students and doctors are being taught the importance of using results of clinical trials to practice evidence-based medicine, but they are not being that 86 percent of those clinical trials are being funded by Big Pharma. After the trials are completed, peer reviewers for journals only see summarized data without ever seeing the actual data from clinical trials themselves.1
Harvard ethics professor Marcia Angell, MD describes how pharmaceutical companies have a direct hand in the design, analysis, and publication of clinical trials and that academic physicians are nothing more than “hired hands” who carry out the trials as directed then sign their names to ghost-authored reports.2
In addition to pharmaceutical companies funding peer reviewed journal articles, according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), 50.9 percent of medical journal editors are paid large sums by pharmaceutical companies. In 2014, the BMJ published findings that the average mean general payment to journal editors from pharmaceutical companies was $27,941.3
Journal Articles are Now ‘Marketing Machines’
In 2004, Richard Horton, FRCP FMedSci, editor of The Lancet medical journal, wrote, “Journal articles have devolved into information laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry”4 and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Dr. Angell accused the pharmaceutical industry of becoming “primarily a marketing machine.”4
Dr. Angell stated:
The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.5
Dr. Abramson has stated that skewed studies paid for and performed by the pharmaceutical companies harm the public tremendously.
Largest Drug Recall in History Due to Lack of Data Integrity
“This is why we’re having the problems of recalls and drugs that don’t turn out to be as good as they say,” Dr. Abramson stated.1
Dr. Abramson, who authored the book Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine, played a large role in the investigation of the painkiller Vioxx, which led to the largest drug recall in history after only five years on the market. A Vioxx safety panel found that the risk of serious health problems and death among Vioxx patients was twice as high as in a group who took naproxen.6
Research published in the medical journal The Lancet estimated that 88,000 Americans had heart attacks after taking Vioxx and 38,000 of those resulted in death.
During trials against Vioxx manufacturing company Merck, it was revealed that researchers for Merck were aware of heart attacks before the study was published but the information was left out of the manuscript. The NEJM issued an “Expression of Concern” calling” into question the integrity of Merck’s data” due to “inaccuracies and deletions.”6
“Despite grumbles of ‘big pharma’, most of us still put our faith in the peer-review process, confident that the scientific method will guide us in the right direction regardless of people’s own bias,” wrote Fiona MacDonald, CEO of Science Alert. She said:
Unfortunately, the results provided to us by the scientific method are only as good as the editors that gatekeep them.5
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1 Lee H, Balmakov R. ‘Nonsensical’ system: Dr. John Abramson on conflicts of interest among big pharma, medical journals, and regulators. The Epoch Times June 24, 2022.
2 Angell M. Drug companies and medicine: what money can buy. Harvard University: Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics Dec. 10, 2009.
3 Liu J et al. Payments by US pharmaceutical and medical device manufaturers to US medical journal editors: retrospective observational study. BMJ Sept. 18, 2017.
4 Smith R. Medical journals are an extension of the marketing arm of pharmaceutical companies. PLoS May 17, 2005.
5 MacDonald F. This is the sickening amount pharmaceutical companies pay top journal editors. Science Alert Apr. 12, 2018.
6 Prakash S, Valentine V. Timeline: the rise and fall of Vioxx. NPR Nov. 10, 2007.