Lies – Drug companies and ‘official’ research

March 26, 2009


The health community in the US is reeling from the fact that it has just been revealed that the data used in over twenty pharmaceutical studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals was partially or completely altered-in other words it was faked.

Dr. Scott Reuben was known as a highly-respected and influential clinical researcher, whose findings were accepted in many major medical journals. What has just come to light is that his favourable reviews of many new drugs as being both safe and beneficial are seriously flawed as he has been on the payroll of two major pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer and Merck. He was actually a member of Pfizer’s speaker’s bureau (which I would have thought was not too difficult to find out) and received five ‘independent research grants’ from the company as well.

What we tend to look for when evaluating a new piece of research is whether it has been peer reviewed – in other words that scientists of equal substance and standing have read and agreed with the findings. What is now clear is that they are nothing of the sort but have taken their colleagues findings as gospel.

Dr. Scott Reuben didn’t just puff off the drugs from the companies he worked for, he actually falsified the data and by having it accepted by leading medical journals got it accepted as genuine. As a faculty member at the respected Tufts Medical School, Reuben had impeccable credentials to bolster his research.

Beginning in 2000, Reuben used his own research to target orthopaedic surgeons and convince them to stop prescribing NSAIDs and switch to the newer, branded COX2 inhibitors produced by Pfizer and Merck. He claimed in his research that using these drugs and others both pre and post operatively would reduce pain and lessen the need for addictive drugs such as morphine. For the last 12 years, he wrote papers promoting pain relieving drugs for orthopaedic surgery that were universally adopted. Now that ‘research’ he so assiduously promoted has been shown not only to be completely fabricated but that the drugs he advocated actually may have actually slowed postoperative healing in those patients. This research was taken up world wide and was certainly profitable for both Pfizer and Merck as their profits from these drugs are alleged to run into billions.

He further attempted to boost his credibility by co-authoring papers with respected, established orthopaedic surgeons, one of whom was Evan Ekman, who worked at the Southern Orthopaedic Sports Medicine in Columbia, South Carolina. He asked Ekman to review his manuscript on surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee but no orthopaedic surgeon was listed in the study. When Ekman asked for his details Reuben never replied and yet a year later he saw a copy of the manuscript Reuben had originally given him. This had been published in a per reviewed journal and Ekman was listed as the co-author. He discovered that his signature had been forged by Reuben on the submission form.

More of Reuben’s falsity came to light during a routine audit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts which is the western campus for Tufts University School of Medicine. It was discovered that he had not received approval from the hospital’s review board to conduct two of his studies and has now been stripped of his research and educational duties and is on ‘medical leave’.

You might have thought that a medical researcher who always came out in favour of the pharmaceutical companies might have been a little suspicious – but sadly I am not at all convinced that this sad and sordid story is at all unique.


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