Another Flawed Study in the New England Journal of Medicine

1206542307In the November 2006 issue of Boston, Karen Donovan detailed the furor over a study in the New England Journal of Medicine concerning the drug, Vioxx. Among the problems as recounted in Donovan’s story: Two of the 13 authors of the piece were Merck employees, the maker of Vioxx, and the study seriously understated the health risks of taking the painkiller.

Today’s New York Times has a story of another flawed study that made its way into the publication’s pages, this time involving cancer research and a prominent researcher whom the Times discovered was underwritten by a tobacco company.

Here’s the nut:

Small print at the end of the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, noted that it had been financed in part by a little-known charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment. A review of tax records by The New York Times shows that the foundation was underwritten almost entirely by $3.6 million in grants from the parent company of the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands.

The Times then quoted Journal editor in chief, Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen:

“In the seven years that I’ve been here, we have never knowingly published anything supported by” a cigarette maker, Dr. Drazen said.

The research by Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College which suggested that CT Scans could prevent 80 percent of lung cancer deaths was seen as groundbreaking at the time, but prominent researchers are appalled at the conflict of interest.

“If you’re using blood money, you need to tell people you’re using blood money,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

The Journal’s role in publishing the study is not given prominent play in the Times piece, and indeed it took several years for the nature of the Foundation for Lung Cancer to become public, but this is another hit to the Journal’s credibility.

Photo of Jeffrey Drazen by Mark Ostow for Boston magazine.