Vioxx maker Merck and Co drew up a doctor 'hit list'

http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,25273468-462,00.html

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It was voluntarily withdrawn from sale in 2004 after concerns were raised that it caused heart attacks and strokes and a clinical trial testing these potential side affects was aborted for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.

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Exactly how much power does the Pharmaceutical industry hold over medical research and development?

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Comment by Mikhayl Von Riebon on April 2, 2009 at 2:41am
im glad to see the article come to some productivity. all of these articles are taken from news.com.au, -> keeps me in touch.
Comment by Susan Thomas on April 2, 2009 at 12:22am
You inspired me to get (finally) to a website: clinicaltrials.gov which will link to 70,876 clinical trials of drugs in 164 countries. Spoke today with one of Joe's co-workers who was given a drug for migraine headaches, side effects of the drug eventually sent him to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with a tumor. The drug was still in clinical trial, and was not authorized for use in migraines, or for release to patient populations. Even in my job, we have physicians using medications for disease treatments that are "off label." (Using a medicine meant for one disease, to treat another.) This is the result of drug salesmen (sometimes physicians themselves) "confidentially" sharing that their peers had noticed this or that effect on certain diseases that the manufacturer hadn't studied yet. Very dangerous practice.
Comment by Susan Thomas on April 1, 2009 at 11:36pm
The pharmaceutical industry literally holds all the power over what medications/chemicals are developed for the treatment of disease. And equipment manufacturers hold almost all the power over any new equipment for the treatment of disease. (surgical robots, etc.) University research is heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies. At least in the US this is so. Physicians receive special perks for talking to their peers about new drugs, and pushing one or the other.

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