To the Editor:
As counsel for GlaxoSmithKline LLC in its recently concluded settlement with the United States government, I write to correct some significant factual inaccuracies in "Academic Researchers Escape Scrutiny in Glaxo Fraud Settlement" (The Chronicle, August 6). The piece focuses on a peer-reviewed journal article published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reporting the results of a clinical trial sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline (Study 329) of Paxil® (paroxetine hydrochloride) for the treatment of major depressive disorder in adolescents (the article was "Efficacy of Paroxetine in the Treatment of Adolescent Major Depression: A Randomized, Controlled Trial," by M.B. Keller et al., in the July 2001 issue). Unfortunately, your piece incorrectly states that, as part of its government settlement, GlaxoSmithKline admitted that the journal article "was part of the fraud" and "constituted scientific fraud." In fact, GlaxoSmithKline made no such admission and vigorously disputes that the journal article was false, misleading, or fraudulent.
As part of its settlement with the government, GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of federal law related to the marketing of Paxil for use by patients under 18, an unapproved, "off label" use for Paxil. While the law permits physicians to prescribe medications for such off-label uses, manufacturers are not permitted to market them for such purposes. The charging document filed by the United States, known as an information, contains many allegations that are either inaccurate or incomplete, that tell only part of the story, and that draw unwarranted conclusions from disputed facts. Throughout the investigation, the settlement process, and the guilty-plea proceeding, GlaxoSmithKline made clear to the government and to the court that it did not agree with all of the factual allegations made in the information. In particular, GlaxoSmithKline has consistently denied and disputed the allegations that the journal article was false or misleading. Nothing in the settlement or the guilty plea has changed GlaxoSmithKline's position on the journal article. Most important, GlaxoSmithKline did not admit and has not admitted that the journal article was part of any fraud or that it was false or misleading.
Your piece also incorrectly states that the journal article "was actually written by Glaxo-hired authors to overstate the benefits and understate the risks of a highly profitable Glaxo drug." While GlaxoSmithKline did hire a medical writer to provide editorial assistance to the clinical investigators, a fact that the journal article itself acknowledged, control over the contents of the manuscript remained at all times with the clinical-investigator authors who provided substantial comments on and input into the manuscript. GlaxoSmithKline believed then and continues to believe that the journal article reflects the honestly held views of the clinical-investigator authors.
Thomas H. Lee II
Editor's note: The federal "criminal information" document in the Paxil case repeatedly describes the journal article as "false and misleading." It also notes that GlaxoSmithKline distributed the article to its marketing department and its sales representatives, who used it to promote the use of the drug for children and adolescents. In addition, the criminal information says that a contractor hired by GlaxoSmithKline wrote the first draft of the article and incorporated changes made in the article by researchers and another GlaxoSmithKline employee. The plea agreement between GlaxoSmithKline and the U.S. Department of Justice states that GlaxoSmithKline "expressly and unequivocally admits that it committed the crimes charged in the information, and is in fact guilty of those offenses."