english.prescrire.org > Spotlight > Archives : 2013 > Pharmaceutical marketing: scientific publications used for commercial purposes

Spotlight: Archives

Every month, the subjects in Prescrire’s Spotlight.

2013 : 1 | 30 | 60

Pharmaceutical marketing: scientific publications used for commercial purposes

Drug companies use various methods to sell their products, including the planned publication of articles in scientific journals, a little-known strategy for influencing healthcare professionals.

In addition to publishing messages that are clearly advertisements, drug companies also include in their communications strategy the publication of articles, the aim of which is to influence the acts of healthcare professionals. Access gained to hundreds of company archives as the result of a lawsuit has shown just how widespread this phenomenon is.

In their “publication plans”, drug companies, or the communication agencies who work for them, map out their promotional themes and plan in advance for the publication of “scientific” articles in medical journals, at conferences, etc. These publications appear to be scientific: their aim is to sell without looking like they are selling something, and they are published in the form of research papers, review articles, editorials, commentaries, etc.

The “publication plan” is handled by people who work directly for drug companies, but whose participation is often not visible in the final published version: they are anonymous “ghost” authors.

“Opinion leaders”, experts who are renowned in their fields, are recruited to act as the honorary authors for these works, to which they have contributed little, or even nothing at all.

The criteria applied by scientific journals in order to establish who the publication’s authors are do not offer sufficient protection against the use of “ghost” authors or honorary authors.

Some scientific journals derive a large portion of their revenue from the sale of reprints, which are used by drug companies to promote their products, particularly during sales rep visits.

In practice, it is important to analyse medical articles with a critical eye, even when they have been published in well-known scientific publications.

©Prescrire 1 December 2013

"Publication planning: an effective corporate strategy to influence health professionals" Prescrire Int 2013; 22 (144): 304-307. (Pdf, subscribers only).

Download the full review.
Pdf, subscribers only

See also:

Pharmaceutical marketing:
the harmful influence
of pharmaceutical reps'
visits on prescriptions
(October 2013)

Shaping diseases:
marketing departments
flex their wings
(August 2007)

Opinion leaders' brand
image used to promote
pharmaceutical companies
(June 2012)

Opinion leaders:
expensive, but cost-effective
for drug companies
(February 2006)