Memos Cast Shadow on Drug's Promotion

A whistle-blower's lawsuit has unearthed documents showing that the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company circumvented the Food and Drug Administration's drug approval process through a PR and advertising campaign. The company's internal memoranda show that it avoided the large clinical trials needed to gain government approval of off-label uses for Neurontin, an epilepsy medicine. Instead, the company paid for small studies and had the results published in medical journals. "The company also hired advertising agencies to help write the medical journal articles," reports Melody Petersen. Warner-Lamber also "spread the word about those small clinical studies by inviting doctors to continuing-education classes, lectures at hospitals, dinners and weekend retreats. ... The company hired doctors to speak to their peers about Neurontin; the doctors were expected to present positive messages about the drug and were paid fees of $500 to $2,000 a speech. ... One of the more interesting tactics used by Warner-Lambert and the advertising agencies it hired to promote Neurontin concerned a 1996 dinner at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. In a draft of a letter written to a doctor by an advertising agency, marketers offered the doctor $200 to memorize questions about Neurontin that they wanted him to drop casually into the dinner conversation."