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Drug-Study Cop DeAngelis Leaves Editor Post at Medical Association Journal

Catherine DeAngelis, the first female editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is stepping down after a decade of raising the standards for fact checking of the pharmaceutical industry.

DeAngelis will leave the position at the journal, known as JAMA, on June 30, according to a statement today. In 1999, DeAngelis became the first woman appointed to the journal’s helm in its then 116-year history. That same year, JAMA’s top rival, the New England Journal of Medicine, designated Marcia Angell editor-in-chief. The appointments were hailed as a narrowing of the gender gap in science and medicine.

During her tenure, DeAngelis, now 70, led efforts to disclose the conflicts of interest of scientific authors who are paid by pharmaceutical companies. JAMA went further than other journals, requiring that every industry-sponsored drug study be reviewed by an independent statistician before it can be published.

“She’s been a pretty spectacular editor,” said Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, in an e- mail. “She’s done a lot to advance the integrity of medical research by establishing high standards for transparency and accountability.”

Nissen himself has a record of calling attention to safety risks involving widely used drugs. His articles, many published in JAMA, helped expose a link to heart attacks in GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s diabetes drug Avandia and risks associated with Merck & Co.’s now-withdrawn pain pill Vioxx.

“She’s been willing to publish controversial papers that were important to public health that others would not have published,” Nissen said.

‘Joke’ to ‘Excellent’

During DeAngelis’s editorial tenure, the journal’s Impact Factor, a measure of influence, rose to 28.9 in 2009 from 11.4 in 2000, making it one of the world’s three most influential journals, along with the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet.

“When I was in medical school, JAMA was a joke, a farce,” said Sidney Wolfe, health-research director for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group in Washington. Wolfe said that when he was a medical student 50 years ago, JAMA articles were handed out every week so that students could find errors.

“For the last 25 years it’s been excellent, and she has continued that tradition,” Wolfe said. “She has been an extremely good editor.”

DeAngelis will return to Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in Baltimore, where she will develop a Center for Professionalism in Medicine & the Related Professions, according to JAMA’s statement.

The center will focus on medicine, nursing, public health, business and law. DeAngelis was vice dean for academic affairs and faculty at the medical school before joining JAMA. She began her career as a nurse and became a pediatrician.

The American Medical Association said it hasn’t chosen a successor.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Randall in New York at trandall6@bloomberg.net; Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at mcortez@bloomberg.net.

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