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Federal prosecutors filed a healthcare fraud charge against Scott Reuben, M.D., a Massachusetts doctor accused of faking research for a dozen years in published studies that suggested after-surgery benefits from painkillers. In a complaint against the former chief of acute pain at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Dr. Reuben sought and received research grants from pharmaceutical companies but never performed the studies. The complaint alleges Reuben fabricated patient data and submitted inormation to anesthesia journals for publication. The hospital where Reuben was employed discovered the alleged fraud and turned him in.

Prosecutors are focusing on a $75,000 grant Reuben received from Pfizer in 2005 to study the effectiveness of the company’s pain drug Celebrex [celecoxib] for use on patients following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery. The complaint alleges that no patients were enrolled in the study, but that Reuben "submitted positive results to the company for publication in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia that ‘were wholly made up."

Readers may recall that Pfizer subsequently heavily marketed Celebrex based, in part, on these fake studies, turning Celebrex into a blockbuster, billion dollar product. Unfortunately, Celebrex turned out to cause Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS), and other problems, leading to nationwide pharmaceutical litigation involving the product. SJS is a terrible condition which can result in a rash-like burning of one’s organs and skin from the inside-out. Victims of SJS sometimes appear as if they’ve been in a fire. Legitimatel studies involving Celebrex later revealed that it is no more effective than Tylenol or aspirin, but far more risky.

4 Comments

  1. Gravatar for Steve Lombardi

    Mike: Isn't faking research results the same type of problem the tobacco industry faced ten or more years ago when they created the Tobacco Institute?

  2. Gravatar for mike phelan

    Steve: No doubt. This has been happening with enough frequency that the NEJM recently required researchers to disclose their financial ties to the pharmaceutical companies.

  3. Gravatar for refilwe

    What happened to peer review in this matter? How did the articles make their way into these journals so easily? Having studied anatomical sciences, I remember this rule from my 3rd year of study - that unless it can be tested and proven true by your peers around the world, your research is as good as a wet cigarette butt. Thus it will never see the light of day in a journal.

  4. Gravatar for mphelan

    It wasn't too long ago that medical reviewers at the FDA and peer reviewers at certain medical journals were not disclosing their own financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. History is replete with examples of pharma ghost writing articles or paying doctors like Dr. Reuben to publish bogus studies.

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