AN international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be "neutralised" or discredited because they criticised the anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced.
Staff at US company Merck & Co emailed each other about the list of doctors - mainly researchers and academics - who had been negative about the drug Vioxx or Merck and a recommended course of action.
The email, which came out in the Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday as part of a class action against the drug company, included the words "neutralise", "neutralised" or "discredit" against some of the doctors' names, The Australian reported.
It is also alleged the company used intimidation tactics against critical researchers, including dropping hints it would stop funding to institutions and claims it interfered with academic appointments.
"We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live," a Merck employee wrote, according to an email excerpt read to the court by Julian Burnside QC, acting for the plaintiff.
Merck & Co and its Australian subsidiary, Merck, Sharpe and Dohme, are being sued for compensation by more than 1000 Australians, who claim they suffered heart attacks or strokes as a result of Vioxx.
The drug was launched in 1999 and at its height of popularity was used by 80 million people worldwide because it did not cause stomach problems as did traditional anti-inflammatory drugs.
It was voluntarily withdrawn from sale in 2004 after concerns were raised that it caused heart attacks and strokes and a clinical trial testing these potential side affects was aborted for safety reasons.
Lead plaintiff Graeme Peterson, 58, claims the drug caused him to have a heart attack in 2003 after he took it for back pain and arthritis every day from May 2001.
Merck last year settled thousands of lawsuits in the US over the effects of Vioxx for $US4.85billion ($7.14 billion) but made no admission of guilt.
The company is fighting the class action in Australia.
Peter Garling, acting for Merck, accused Mr Peterson of not taking the drug Vioxx in the months leading up to his heart attack in December 2003.
Mr Peterson denied this allegation.
The trial, before Justice Chris Jessop, continues.
Exactly how much power does the Pharmaceutical industry hold over medical research and development?