Thursday, June 23, 2005

Waxman Summarizes the Marketing of Vioxx

The current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine also continues the journal's new skeptical approach to the business practices of the pharmaceutical industry with a second perspectives article, by Congressman Harvey Waxman, that reviews the results of his committee's investigation of the marketing of Vioxx. (Waxman JA. The lesson of Vioxx - drug safety and sales. N Engl J Med 2005; 352: 2576-2578.) (The most recent of the many Health Care Renewal posts on Vioxx is here.)
Waxman summarized techniques Merck used to try to minimize the cardiovascular adverse effects of Vioxx in its marketing efforts to physicians. Techniques included:
  • Avoiding discussion of a specific study, the VIGOR study, which showed that Vioxx increased cardiovascular events
  • Distributing outdated data from weaker studies that had not shown cardiovascular adverse effects, on a "Cardiovascular Card"
  • Identifying speakers for "educational events" who would be "favorable" to Merck products
  • Using "subliminal selling techniques" beyond intellectual persuasion.
Most strikingly, Waxman noted "Merck's marketing practices may be less aggressive and more ethical than those of many of its competitors."
My comment is that this suggests that the pharmaceutical industry ought to inject big doses of ethics and transparency into its marketing. But a quick scan of Health Care Renewal would also suggest that many large health care organizations, not just pharmaceutical manufacturers, could use similar injections of ethics and transparency into their business practices.