Tag Archives: merck

Online comments lead to BMJ’s disclosure of ‘competing interests’

In BMJ, Bob Roehr wrote about a report published by German researchers in the Canadian Medical Association Journal describing an apparent tendency for journals that accept pharmaceutical advertising to publish more positive drug-related articles than those that depend on subscription dollars to pay the bills. The study and the Roehr’s summary are good reading in their own right, but the comment section is where things really get interesting.

There, Age of Autism UK editor John Stone points to a commentary penned by the Alliance for Human Research Protection’s Vera Hassner Sharav and draws into question BMJ‘s sources of funding. His main focus is the tension between that publication’s Andrew Wakefield investigations and its receipt of money from an arm of Merck.

Sharav’s language is somewhat incendiary, but it’s BMJ editor Fiona Godlee’s response to her commentary (and Stone’s post) that push the whole thing into the realm of the remarkable. Godlee weighs in on everything right there in the comment thread, admitting that BMJ had not disclosed those conflicts of interest in the Wakefield stories simply “because it didn’t occur to us to do so,” given that it was a story focused on research fraud rather than upon vaccines and medicine.

Although Vera’s claims may seem far fetched on this occasion, she is right that we should have declared the BMJ Group’s income from Merck as a competing interest to the editorial (and the two editor’s choice articles) that accompanied Brian Deer’s series on the Secrets of the MMR scare. We should also, as you say, have declared the group’s income from GSK as a competing interest in relation to these articles. We will publish clarifications.

The whole chain of events is a promising sign that increased interactivity in online publications may lead to increased transparency, and it’s well worth reading, at the very least, all of Roehr’s story and the comments that follow it. All the key bits are there.

NPR to air explanatory Fosamax piece tonight

NPR correspondent Alix Spiegel’s latest piece, an examination of how Merck manufactured a disease (and an epidemic) en route to turning Fosamax into a blockbuster drug, is set to air on All Things Considered tonight.

We all know how the story ends, but the real focus is the journey. As Spiegel says, “it’s the story of how the definition of what constitutes a disease evolves, and the role that drug companies can play in that evolution.”

In the case of Fosamax, it’s a real humdinger, going all the way from a sweltering meeting room in Rome to the shady backrooms of corporate America and, just in case that isn’t Da Vinci Code enough, it even involves dubious decisions at the highest levels of government.


In a sidebar added to the story after this entry was posted, journalist Gisele Grayson writes about learning that she has osteopenia.