In the second such ruling in the past month, a federal judge in Boston, Massachusetts, yesterday turned down a drug company's request to obtain peer-review documents from a major medical journal. The judge agreed in a 31 March decision that forcing the journal to release the information would harm the integrity of the peer-review process.
The case stems from lawsuits filed by consumers and health care providers against Pfizer involving two arthritis drugs sold by the company that have been linked to serious side effects. Last year, Pfizer issued subpoenas seeking peer-review documents and unpublished manuscripts from several journals that had published studies on the drugs, including the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). In January, the company sued JAMA and NEJM to force them to comply.
The editors of both journals argued that releasing the documents would harm the peer-review process, which relies on confidentiality so that reviewers will feel free to be candid. Last month, a judge in Chicago, Illinois, agreed with JAMA and denied Pfizer's request (ScienceNOW, 14 March).
Now NEJM has won its case, too, winding up the matter for these two leading journals. Unlike the Chicago court, Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts agreed that information Pfizer wanted--which the company had narrowed to anonymous comments provided to authors--could be relevant to the company's defense. But Sorokin found that "the NEJM's interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the peer review process is a very significant one ... and tip [sic] the scales in favor of the NEJM." NEJM's editors said in a statement that they are "pleased that the confidentiality of the peer-review process remains intact."