Occasionally I admire the work of William Heisel, a journalist and blogger who writes the razor-sharp health blog Antidote, hosted by the University of Southern California and the Annenberg School for Communication. Lately, Heisel has been digging into UCSF's Drug Industry Document Archive (DIDA), specifically its huge collection of smoking gun documents about the medical writing company DesignWrite. There are reams of material here and there is nobody better than Heisel at making sense of it all, and revealing the bankrupt sense of morality that seemed to have permeated DesignWrite and everything it touched.
Currently, Heisel is blogging about Dr. David Archer, an ob/gyn and a key part of the Wyeth/DesignWrite team. Wyeth pharmaceuticals hired DesignWrite to ghostwrite dozens of articles to promote its various products, including birth control pills, antibiotics, and the hormone replacement pill Premarin. Heisel traces Dr. Archer's activities with DesignWrite with devastating tenacity, following the path of financial relationships through the drug company, bought-out "journals," medical writers, and so-called "authors." Each time, the punch line ends up being a glowing endorsement of a Wyeth product, authored by Dr. Archer, but written by...who knows?
At one point, Archer was the editor of a newsletter called "Menopausal Medicine," which is funded by Wyeth. As editor, he had accepted an article by Dr. James V. Fiorica (also a Wyeth-kept man) entitled "Mammographic breast density and hormone replacement therapy." Ghostwritten by DesignWrite, it was a carefully crafted argument that HRT does not interfere with images on mammography (as has been charged by others academics). In a move reminiscent of the Nemeroff/VNS/Neuropsychopharmacology fiasco, Archer was playing on both sides of the field, each side chock-full of conflicts of interest.
Says Heisel: "[Archer] was supposed to be, as the journal editor, the ultimate arbiter of the strength of the submissions to Menopausal Medicine. But, as documents in the Drug Industry Document Archive show, he also was working directly with DesignWrite on tailoring the article."