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Physician Marketing, Sales, & Education Topics related to pharma's communications with physicians, including marketing, sales, and support of symposia and continuing medical eduaction (CME)

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Old 31st July 2009, 06:23 AM
Pharma Newshound Pharma Newshound is offline
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Default Call for Elsevier to Get Rid of Its Pharma Services Divison

SOURCE: The Lancet, Volume 374, Issue 9687, Page 375, 1 August 2009

Elsevier should divest itself of either its medical publishing or pharmaceutical services division

Jon Jureidini aEmail Address, Robyn Clothier

Elsevier, publisher of The Lancet, is reviewing its publishing practice after court disclosure that it colluded with Merck to produce a fake journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine (AJBJM) to promote rofecoxib and other Merck products. Elsevier has called the incident an “isolated practice led by former employees in a local pharmaceutical services division”.1 This statement refers to the publication in Australia of nine fake journals, and the registration of another 13. Although Elsevier acknowledged that all the fakes “carried the name ‘journal of’ but lacked proper sponsor disclosures and were not in fact journals and should not have been titled as such”,1 it further defended its practice on the grounds that the AJBJM was the only one of the fakes bought by a single company. The others, it says, were “published with ads from multiple advertisers and therefore did not call for additional disclosure”.1

But neither the publication of faked journals nor the setting up of journals for a single advertiser turn out to be isolated to Australia, as revealed by an examination of the website of Excerpta Medica, Elsevier's pharmaceutical services division. A case study2 describes how a “company-sponsored journal” was “initially released in December of 2004 to physicians in Europe and Canada” and “now includes versions translated for subscribers in Spain and Greece” for a client competing in a “very crowded and mature” cardiovascular market. From a “shallow base of clinical support”, the journal was designed to “position the client as a market leader” and “prepare the specialist and primary markets for future indications”.2

The website leaves little doubt that when Excerpta Medica “partner[s] with our clients in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to educate”, education is a euphemism for marketing. For example, the strategic services offered on the “Medical education” page include “Product positioning” and “Key opinion leader (KOL) development”.3

The Lancet is used to sell Excerpta Medica. As recently as June 18, a group managing director wrote: “Communications agencies linked to publishers can leverage the content from within their company”.4 Describing The Lancet's symposium series, in which a pharmaceutical company sponsors a meeting where the authors and a “local thought leader” discuss a recently published paper with the audience, he said “The unique assets of the Lancet brand help to attract audiences and give the meetings the required credibility and impact.”4

Although the relationship between medical publishing and service to the pharmaceutical industry is not unique to Elsevier,5 we question the compatibility of these two roles.

JJ is chair of and RC a member and employee of Healthy Skepticism.

1 Elsevier. Elsevier to create new guidelines for pharmaceutical article reprint, compilation and custom publications. (accessed July 8, 2009).

2 Exerpta Medica. Case study—filling a clinical literature gap. (accessed July 8, 2009).

3 Exerpta Medica. Medical education. (accessed July 8, 2009).

4 Roos EC. Exceeding expectations. (accessed July 8, 2009).

5 Sismondo S, Doucet M. Publication ethics and the ghost management of medical publication. Bioethics 200910.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.01702.x. published online Feb 10. PubMed

Response from Elsevier

Elsevier has publicly stated our regret that a series of “Australasian Journal of” publications were produced out of our Australian pharmaceutical services division when they were not in fact journals. We have done a full internal review of all our publishing practices and are finalising a set of revised guidelines to ensure that this type of misrepresentation and lack of disclosure is not repeated.

We appreciate Jon Jureidini and Robyn Clothier's perspective, but disagree with their statement that we have defended the Australasian series. Elsevier has said from the outset that it was wrong.

That said, it is not accurate to suggest the Australasian series from 2000—05 is similar to the Excerpta Medica business today. At the time the cited case study was written, the word journal was inadvertently used to describe this product (this has since been corrected). The publication itself (Renin Angiotensin System in Cardiovascular Medicine) was neither titled a “journal” nor was it positioned as such. This product was one of thousands of sponsored, custom publications that scientific, technical, and medical publishers have produced for pharmaceutical companies for years, was clearly marked as such in content and design, and it included all the appropriate disclosures.

It is certainly fair to raise the issue of the compatibility of medical publishing and service to the pharmaceutical industry, and we value input from the scientific community on this subject. However, it should be noted that Excerpta Medica is very clear and transparent in stating that its mission is to help pharmaceutical companies publish and market their research. This is a legitimate and important function, assisting in the dissemination of advancements in pharmaceutical research that aid medical professionals every day. When one or more companies fund the research or the publication, that information is clearly disclosed.

Excerpta Medica may also use Elsevier content as part of its medical communications and marketing. It is no different from independent medical communication agencies that have to obtain permission from content owners within Elsevier, including The Lancet, to use the content and for the context of that use. They must also cite the original source.

We believe that high standards for disclosure are appropriate and necessary to ensure that the purpose and sponsorship of any publication are clear to the reader, and we are confident the disclosure policies in place at Excerpta Medica meet this standard.
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