| WASHINGTON, April 16
WASHINGTON, April 16 Every few months, Stephen
Ferris would receive folders of papers with clinical
descriptions of patients suspected to have Alzheimer's
Ferris, the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Professor of
Psychiatry and director of New York University's Alzheimer's
Disease Center, would help decide if a patient had developed
He never saw a patient. Yet his name is listed as second
author on the study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in
Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical
Association alleges this is a clear demonstration of "guest
But Ferris says the journal, popularly known as JAMA, is
Ferris's story shows that the line of names at the top of a
report published about a clinical trial does not always reflect
the work that went into the study.
JAMA says companies can cherry-pick distinguished authors
to lend their names and reputations to work controlled by the
firms, making it easy to manipulate data and researchers alike,
while Ferris notes that often hundreds of people work on a
study and just a few representative names get used.
JAMA says the study, which was testing the Merck and Co
(MRK.N) arthritis drug Vioxx to see if it could delay the
development of Alzheimer's, showed clearly that patients taking
the drug were more likely to die than patients taking placebo.
"My role in the conduct of the study was ... we would get
binders in the mail on a regular basis over the years the study
was ongoing," Ferris told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"There was a sheet that we would check off with a
recommendation and we would fax that in. It was like a vote,"
"We were not paid to be authors," Ferris said.
SUSCEPTIBLE TO DUPING
He said Dr. Leon Thal, a respected Alzheimer's researcher
at the University of California San Diego, had helped Merck
come up with the idea of the trial and helped write the
Thal, who was killed in a plane crash in 2007, was not
paid, Ferris said. He said they both looked at the first
analysis, which was written by a Merck researcher.
"It is typical that the person writing the first draft is
some person in the company who knows something about the
study," Ferris said.
Ferris said he had no opinion on whether the data showed
the patients taking Vioxx were more likely to have a stroke or
to die. "I don't feel I am competent to have an opinion about
that," said Ferris, who is not a physician.
But he said Thal was, as was Dr. Louis Kirby of Pivotal
Research Centers in Peoria, Arizona, another outside researcher
whose name is also on the paper.
"I think with regard to this I would have to admit that I
could be susceptible to duping given my particular background
and expertise," Ferris said.
In the end, the study carried the names of eight Merck
researchers, as well as Thal, Ferris and Kirby.
Vioxx was pulled from the market in 2004, but thousands of
lawsuits have been filed against Merck alleging that it knew
the drug was dangerous years earlier and kept it on the market
without cautioning patients.
Dr. Joseph Ross of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in
New York, and colleagues studied documents presented in the
lawsuits, which Merck is trying to settle as a group.
They say researchers like Ferris were part of a "systematic
strategy" used by Merck to "facilitate the publication of guest
authored and ghost written medical literature."
"Recruited authors were frequently placed in the first and
second positions of the authorship list," they wrote in JAMA.
Ferris said he was livid about JAMA's use of his particular
paper as an example of guest writing.
"I am sure guest authorship is something that goes on and
I neither condone it nor participate in it," Ferris said.
But Ross said no doctors were being blamed. "No one is going
to talk about it. No one is going to admit to it," he said.
(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Philip Barbara)