The Journal of Scientific Practice and Integrity (Jun 2022)

Davids versus Goliaths: Pharma and academia threats to individual scientists and clinicians

  • Charles L. Bennett,
  • Nancy Olivieri,
  • Shamia Hoque,
  • David Aboulafia,
  • Anne Ventrone,
  • Courtney Lubaczewski,
  • Betty Dong,
  • Benjamin Schooley,
  • Bartlett J. Witherspoon,
  • Paul S. Ray,
  • William J. Hrushesky,
  • John Restaino,
  • Henrik S. Thomsen,
  • Dennis Mangano,
  • Christina Mora-Mangano,
  • June M. McKoy,
  • Martin Schoen,
  • Kevin Knopf,
  • Linda Martin,
  • Steven Rosen


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# Background We previously described experiences of clinicians who published adverse drug reaction reports. We now report on threats and intimidations leveled against clinicians and scientists who received publicly documented threats after communicating safety, efficacy, or data integrity findings contrary to corporate interests. # Methods Data on threats and intimidations were obtained from transcripts of governmental hearings or agencies, university-affiliated reports, media interviews, and investigative journalism articles. Content and timing of threats and intimidation, subsequent harms, numbers of persons seriously injured or who died from individual toxicities, financial payments from sponsors related to safety, efficacy, or data integrity concerns, and civil settlements and criminal findings were evaluated. # Findings Twenty-six individuals who communicated safety, efficacy, or data integrity concerns were targets of threats and intimidation from corporate employees (twenty-three individuals) or regulatory personnel (three). Seventeen individuals identified instances where pharmaceutical sponsors submitted fraudulent data in support of regulatory approval of a drug or device. Scientist and clinician communications were followed by drug/device withdrawals (fourteen drugs/devices), black box warnings (six drugs), withdrawal of a sponsor's application for regulatory approval (one device), and delay of approval of a sponsor's application for regulatory approval (one drug). Actions mainly occurred after persons communicated with pharmaceutical employees (fourteen). Intimidation efforts by corporate personnel included threats of lawsuits (eighteen individuals), hiring private investigators (nine), and public disparagement at conferences (eleven). Related intimidation efforts carried out by academia or regulatory agency superiors included threats of: loss of positions (six), loss of grant funding (two), delays in decisions regarding tenure (two); or reassignment to a low-level position (one). Academic harms included lost: hospital or university appointments (nine and six, respectively), grant funding (two), chairperson title of an international clinical trial group (one), and journal editorial board position (one). Corporate harms included payment of \$1 million to defense attorneys in three cases filed against clinicians. # Interpretation Threats and intimidation carried out by corporate employees and/or academic supervisors followed public communication of concerns regarding patient safety, drug efficacy, or data integrity, including instances where sponsors were identified as having submitted fraudulent data to regulatory or government agencies. Consideration should be given to filing criminal charges against pharmaceutical executives who are discovered by scientists or clinicians to have knowingly submitted fraudulent data to regulatory or governmental agencies, rather than causing the scientists and clinicians who submit such reports to risk losing their reputations and occupations.