Guest Authorship and Ghostwriting in Publications Related to Rofecoxib

Clinical trial manuscripts and review papers appearing in medical journals are frequently supported or written by pharmaceutical companies, although the list of authors suggests otherwise. This study considers Merck & Co and its publication of information about the drug rofecoxib.

Pharmaceutical companies sometimes hire guest authors or ghostwriters to prepare biomedical articles. Recent litigation against Merck & Co allowed the authors of this study to examine documents and explore the practice of guest authorship and ghostwriting as it related to the research and promotion of the drug rofecoxib. The authors identified 250 documents for review, the majority of which were Merck internal correspondence and publication reports.

Key Findings:

  • For the publication of clinical trial manuscripts, Merck employees prepared the documents, sometimes with a medical publishing company, and then recruited an external academic investigator who was usually listed as a first or second position author.
  • For review papers, Merck employees contracted with a medical publishing company who regularly recruited outside authors—compensation ranged from $750 to $2,500—to write the documents.
  • Of 96 published articles, 92 percent of clinical trial manuscripts issued a disclosure statement of Merck's financial support, but only 50 percent of review articles acknowledged the same or included details about author compensation.

These practices are likely to be common among the pharmaceutical industry. The authors hope that the results will encourage a discussion of ways to improve the integrity of research.