In recent times there has been a raft of major medical scandals involving false and misleading evidence around the safety and effectiveness of certain drugs – evidence that has undoubtedly led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Individuals who have dared reveal the truth have been discredited, bullied, and fired, and it has been rare for any individuals complicit in the deceptive science to be called to account.
But in an unprecedented case, the General Medical Council (GMC), the UK doctors’ registration body, is investigating influential Dr Richard Eastell in early November over the ghostwriting of a study of the drug Actonel conducted by Sheffield University for Procter and Gamble Pharmaceuticals . This case may well be the first time that a professional regulator of doctors has had to deal in public with a highly regarded doctor over whether doctors can and should be involved in fronting manipulated research for industry. But whether it will involve that, and whether it will be honest, remains to be seen.
In 2005 Dr Aubrey Blumsohn publicly raised concerns about the osteoporosis drug Actonel, and the way in which Procter and Gamble had controlled a series of studies at his University, the University of Sheffield. Proctor and Gamble provided millions of pounds of funding for the University and senior academic and osteoporosis authority Dr Richard Eastell in turn signed off ghost written papers that he was unable to verify, allowing wrong information about their drug Actonel to be published. The two papers Blumsohn was supposed to “write” were never published except as meeting abstracts because he didn’t agree to it. Read more:
Eastell continues to enjoy celebrity status in the osteoporosis field, his name appearing on numerous industry pharmaceutical papers. But Dr Blumsohn’s career as an osteoporosis authority and his position at the university are over because he refused the use of his name and exposed the truth.
It may look as though justice is about to be done. But chances of the investigation pursuing the truth and restoring Dr Blumsohn¹s reputation are minimal. Eastell is a powerful academic with powerful friends, and the GMC will have its eye on the investment interests of the profession, and the usual business of research at medical schools desperate for cash and the personal wealth of the “key opinion leaders” who have led medicine and science along the path of prostitution.
The involvement of doctors in helping companies to manipulate the pharmaceutical literature is the most important problem in medicine right now. Medical professional regulators like the GMC have failed to deal with the problem in any way despite their claims to uphold the welfare and interests of patients.
If the GMC fails to deal with this justly, the widespread practice of ghostwriting and more importantly of blind academic fronting of company statistics will receive a huge boost from a government body that is supposed to protect patients. The huge implications it has for patients will continue, and more principled academics like Dr Blumsohn will suffer the same injustice if they are brave enough to let us, the pill taking public, know what happens behind closed doors. There will be few academics willing to raise problems in the future, and we will all be a little more unsafe.