New Analysis Reveals How Much Big Pharma Controls “The Science”

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In Brief

  • The Facts:
    • A new analysis found that 81% of authors whose work appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association, failed to disclose payments as required.

    • The researchers found 118 authors who received a total of $7.48 million.

    • The majority of drug studies are funded by the pharmaceutical company, authored by employees of the company and researchers who accepted payments from the company.

  • Reflect On:
    • In the US, pharmaceutical companies represent the largest lobbying entity. They give twice to congress than the next biggest lobbying entity, which is oil and gas.

    • Just imagine the power they exercise over both republicans and democrats, the medical industry and academic institutions.

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“Trust the science” is a slogan we’ve heard for the past two years, but science calling into question claims from companies like Pfizer and Moderna regarding their COVID products was ignored, censored and ridiculed. This is the complete opposite of science, and anybody who is a student of science knows that the science is never “settled” and always questionable.

Even the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) was subjected to censorship and Facebook “fact checking” for sharing a story that uncovered significant fraud during Pfizer’s COVID vaccine clinical trials. The BMJ responded and referred to these fact-checkers as incompetent.

In a transparent world, this type of news and information would be at the forefront of big media, but it’s not. As a result, those who are not diving deep and doing their ‘own research’ have been unaware of some very significant information that may change their perception of what’s happening.

A New Analysis

Concerns over conflicts of interest in the medical field is nothing new, but the issue has become quite extreme. For example, a recent analysis in preprint form published last January found that 81 percent of authors whose work appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) – two of the most influential medical journals – failed to disclose payments they received.

The analysis looked at 31 research articles that were published in both of the journals in 2017. The researchers found 118 authors who received a total of $7.48 million. OpenPayments, a U.S. government database where drug makers must report payments to physicians and other health care providers, was used to collect this data. The 23 researchers that received the largest payments received a total of $6.32 million.

It’s important to note that many consider these companies to be akin to criminal organizations operating under the guise of goodwill. For example. Pfizer has been assessed billions in criminal convictions, civil penalties and jury awards. They’ve set records for both total penalties and criminal fines.

In 2012, the NEJM published 73 articles on original studies of new drugs, which represented drugs approved by the FDA since 2000. It was found that 82 percent of them had been funded by the pharmaceutical company selling the product, and 68 percent of them had authors who were employees of that company. Finally, it was found that 50 percent had lead researchers who accepted money from a drug company.

Arnold Seymour Relman (1923-2014), Harvard Professor of Medicine and Former Editor in Chief of the NEJM co authored a paper with Marcia Angell, another long time Editor in Chief of the NEJM about how the drug industry distorts medicine and politics. In it, he stated the following,

“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.”

Arnold Seymour Relman (1923-2014), Harvard Professor of Medicine and Former Editor in Chief of the NEJM

What’s disturbing is that this type of activity has cost many lives. For example, a 2006 report by GlaxoSmithKline in the NEJM concluded that Avandia was a great drug for treating diabetes. At the time, the senior vice president of the company Lawson Macartney stated the following in a news release;

“We now have clear evidence from a large international study that the initial use of (Avandia) is more effective than standard therapies.”

The trial used to approve the drug had been funded by GlaxoSmithKline, and each of the eleven authors had received money from the company. Four were employees and held company stock. The other seven were academics who had received grants or consultant fees from the firm.

The drug had been estimated to cause approximately 80,000 heart attacks and deaths, a safety signal that at the time of approval should have been quite clear. This risk was something most likely ignored given he history of these corporations, but we can’t say for sure.

A NEJM study in 2007 linked Avandia to a 43% increased risk of heart attacks, and a 64% increased risk of death from heart disease. Avandia is still FDA approved and available in the U.S.

According to 2013 research conducted at the University of Arizona College of Law, even when pharma companies aren’t directly funding the research, company stockholders, consultants, directors and officers are almost always involved in conducting them.

Furthermore, Big Pharma knows citizens are ‘hip’ to this type of thing, this is why they hire doctors to write “science” instead of a company representative. It’s called “ghostwriting.” This practice started in the ’50s and ’60s when tobacco executives were trying to shut down scientists and doctors claiming their products were causing cancer. In fact, doctors used to prescribe cigarettes while all of this was going on, not knowing that they were actually harmful. Evidence suggests the corporations already knew about this harm.

Today, more than one in 10 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) are co-written by a ghostwriter. 

Rebecca Strong from The Defender explains,

Case in point: in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Merck paid for 73 ghostwritten articles to play up the benefits of its arthritis drug Vioxx. It was later revealed that Merck failed to report all of the heart attacks experienced by trial participants.

In fact, a study published in the NEJM revealed that an estimated 160,000 Americans experienced heart attacks or strokes from taking Vioxx.

That research was conducted by Dr. David Graham, associate director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, who understandably concluded the drug was not safe. But the FDA’s Office of New Drugs, which not only was responsible for initially approving Vioxx but also regulating it, tried to sweep his findings under the rug. “I was pressured to change my conclusions and recommendations, and basically threatened that if I did not change them, I would not be permitted to present the paper at the conference,” he wrote in his 2004 U.S. Senate testimony on Vioxx. “One Drug Safety manager recommended that I should be barred from presenting the poster at the meeting.”

Eventually, the FDA issued a public health advisory about Vioxx and Merck withdrew this product. But it was a little late for repercussions — 38,000 of those Vioxx-takers who suffered heart attacks had already died.

In 2010 Pfizer was ordered to pay $142 million US in damages for fraudulently marketing an anti-seizure drug called gabapentin, which was marketed under the name Neurontin. Pfizer was caught “fraudulently” marketing the drug “and promoted it for unapproved use.” It was discovered that the drug was promoted by the drug company as a treatment for pain, migraines and bipolar disorder, even though it wasn’t effective in treating these conditions and was actually toxic.

In 2012, GSK paid a $3 billion fine for bribing doctors and illegally promoting drugs for off-label uses. GSK withheld clinical trial results that showed its antidepressant, Paxil, not only doesn’t work for adolescents and children but more alarmingly that it can increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in this group.

study published in the British Medical Journal  by researchers at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen showed that pharmaceutical companies were not disclosing all information regarding the results of their drug trials. Researchers looked at documents from 70 different double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) and found that the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports went unreported.

American pharmaceutical giant Gilead has paid at least $178 million to doctors and $81 million to hospitals in the US to promote and prescribe the company’s drugs despite cases of deaths and severe side effects. The drug-maker funded as many as 21,833 physicians in 2019 alone, according to data about Gilead payments from 2013 to 2019.

Arms Watch had already revealed that at least 249 patients enrolled in the Gilead $3.3 billion Hepatitis C elimination project in Georgia have died, according to leaked documents. The cause of death of some patients has been reported as “unknown” in Gilead confidential reports. Other patients enrolled in the program have discontinued treatment due to serious adverse events. Some of them have died.

These types of allegations continue to this day and never really get media attention. How much of an influence does Big Pharma have on media when we consider the video below?

The type of activity in this article explains how the power of Big Pharma has undermined institutions in our “democracy” that are supposed to protect people from powerful and greedy corporations. Pharmaceutical companies have been able to purchase politicians, lawmakers, doctors and scientists.

In the US, pharmaceutical companies represent the largest lobbying entity. They give twice to congress than the next biggest lobbying entity, which is oil and gas. Just imagine the power they exercise over both republicans and democrats. It’s as if they own regulatory agencies and and have captured them, using them as sock puppets for power, control and profit. Furthermore, they’ve compromised the press and censor and destroy publications that publish real science.

Over the years, employees from health agencies, like the Centres For Disease Control (CDC), have been emphasizing this as well. For example, in 2016 group of more than a dozen senior scientists lodged an ethics complaint alleging the federal agency is being influenced by corporate and political interests. They called themselves SPIDER. Scientists Preserving Integrity, Diligence and Ethics in Research.

They stated,

“We are a group of scientists at CDC that are very concerned about the current state of ethics at our agency. It appears that our mission is being influenced and shaped by outside parties and rogue interests. It seems that our mission and Congressional intent for our agency is being circumvented by some of our leaders. What concerns us most, is that it is becoming the norm and not the rare exception. Some senior management officials at CDC are clearly aware and even condone these behaviours. Others see it and turn the other way. Some staff are intimated and presse to do things they now are not right.

We have representatives from across the agency that witness this unacceptable behaviour. It occurs at all levels and in all of our respective units. These questionable and unethical practices threaten to undermine our credibility and reputation as a trusted leader in public health.”

With the revelations that have been made over the years, why hasn’t anybody within these corporations faced consequences for this criminal activity?  Robert G. Evans, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Vancouver School of Economics explains,

“A corporation may treat both criminal and civil penalties as simply business expenses, to be weighed against the revenues earned from illegal behaviour. But human beings can be put in jail, and that is a whole other matter. Conceivably, convicting corporate executives of criminal behaviour and sentencing them to terms of imprisonment might be a more effective deterrent to the “repeat offender” behaviour demonstrated by Pfizer.”

Robert G. Evans, PhD, Emeritus Professor, Vancouver School of Economics

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