The conflicts go on and on and on…

Health Affairs bills itself as “the number one cited health policy journal devoted to publishing original, peer-reviewed research and commentary.” Judging by the journal’s review of my book, Side Effects, its commentary may be original but it sure isn’t unbiased. To review the book, Health Affairs turned to none other than Dr. Alan J. Gelenberg, a psychiatrist who is a long-time friend and collaborator of Dr. Martin Keller, the chief of psychiatry at Brown University whose financial ties to the drug industry I expose in my book. See Gelenberg’s review here.

As a quick search of Medline reveals, Gelenberg, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, and Keller collaborated on at least 20 papers dating back to1989 and up to last year. Most of these studies involve the very antidepressants I write about in my book. Indeed, Gelenberg was a co-author with Keller on a notorious paper published in 1998 on the antidepressant Serzone, which occasioned an accompanying editorial by the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine titled “Is Academic Medicine for Sale?” because there were so many conflicts of interest between the researchers of this paper (Gelenberg and Keller included) and the pharmaceutical industry.

As Roy Poses points out in his Health Care Renewal blog, Gelenberg is a consultant to GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil (the bestselling antidepressant in the title of my book), Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Wyeth, Novartis and Forest Labs, all makers of other antidepressants. As for Serzone, it was pulled from the U.S. market in 2003 after it was found to cause liver damage and deaths in a number of patients.

Interestingly enough, on many of the studies that Keller and Gelenberg collaborated, a third author was none other than Dr. Alan Schatzberg, the head of psychiatry at Stanford University, who, like Keller, is currently being investigated by Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Finance committee for his financial ties to the drug industry. See my July 4 blog.

Not surprisingly, Gelenberg failed to disclose these myriad conflicts of interest at the end of his review for Health Affairs. So the questions remain: did he disclose them to the editors of Health Affairs and what, if any, effort did they make to ensure that their reviewer was an unbiased source?

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