Three years ago, Steve Haffner briefly gained notoriety when he leeked a meta-analysis of GlaxoSmithKline’s Avandia diabetes that was to be published in The New England Journal of Medicine. At the time, Haffner served as a peer reviewer and the breach allowed the drugmaker to respond very quickly to publication. But a recent US Senate Finance Committee investigation shows his ties to Glaxo were complicated – he was the lead author on an Avandia paper that was apparently ghostwritten before appearing in Circulation (back story here and here).
A Glaxo spokeswoman has denied any ghostwriting took place and maintains Haffner authored the paper, providing “substantial input.” Moreover, she says the drugmaker follows accepted “authorship practices.” But Baylor College of Medicine isn’t so sure. The school, where Haffner is employed part time after retiring from the University of Texas Health Science Center, is investigating the episode and considering whether to penalize the assistant professor, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required). “We will conduct our own review of this issue and subsequently make a well-informed determination of whether this affects his continued part-time employment,” a university spokeswoman tells the paper.
And Circulation, which is published by the American Heart Association and has policies against ghostwriting, may conduct its own probe. “If we find out that an author has deliberately misrepresented themselves, we will take appropriate steps in response, including possibly notifying the lead author’s institution so the institution can investigate,” an AHA spokeswoman tells the paper.
Ironically, Haffner was quick to express outrage at alleged transgressions commited by others. Three years ago, he accused Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steve Nissen, who authored the 2007 meta-analysis and co-authored a recent update, of throwing “Molotov cocktails” at the Glaxo and Avandia, and accused the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet of behaving like British tabloid – absent photos of topless women – for running editorials lambasting Avandia data (back story). Haffner, meanwhile, was a member of the Glaxo speakers bureau (look here).