Journal Reviewer Leaked Manuscript to Pharmaceutical Company

January 30, 2008

A peer reviewer leaked a paper due to appear in The New England Journal of Medicine to the manufacturer of a drug criticized in the manuscript, according to a news article in Nature.

The reviewer, Steven M. Haffner, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, broke the journal’s confidentiality rules by faxing a copy of a review of studies on the diabetes drug Avandia to a colleague at GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company. Dr. Haffner has received consulting fees and speaker’s honoraria from the company.

The review article linked taking Avandia to an increased risk of heart attack. When it appeared online in the journal last May, Glaxo’s stock fell by 13 percent, according to Nature.

Dr. Haffner told Nature, “Why I sent it is a mystery. I don’t really understand it. I wasn’t feeling well. It was bad judgment.”

A spokeswoman for Glaxo said that the company had already planned to publish interim results of another study of the drug that it had sponsored, but that knowledge that the review would be appearing soon “added an additional sense of urgency.” Glaxo’s study appeared online in the same journal just two weeks after the review paper did.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent the company a letter today, asking what it did once it received the manuscript from Dr. Haffner. —Lila Guterman