Sunday, December 04, 2005

More Allegations That Merck Executives Intimidated Researchers About Vioxx

According to Business Week, and Bloomberg News, testimony by Dr. Eric Topol of the Cleveland Clinic alleged that Merck executives attempted to intimidate him as he was preparing an article about the cardiovascular risks of Vioxx. In Business Week,

In 2001, as Topol was preparing to have published an article he had written highlighting cardiovascular risk from Vioxx, he received a visit from Dr. Alise Reicin, vice president of clinical research at Merck Research Labs.
According to Topol, Reicin told him he would be "embarrassed" if he published the article because he didn't have all the data.
After the article was published, he said, Merck sent letters to doctors all over the country saying his analysis was wrong. He was said Merck also attempted to "trash" others who criticized Vioxx.
Bloomberg reported that after the article was published,

Company officials even complained about Topol's research to a member of the Cleveland Clinic's board, the cardiologist said in his deposition. The facility has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report magazine as one of the U.S.'s four best hospitals.
Former Merck Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Raymond Gilmartin called Malachi Mixon, head of the hospital's board, in October 2004 to question why Topol was targeting Vioxx, the cardiologist testified in his deposition. Gilmartin questioned, ``What has Merck ever done to the Cleveland Clinic to warrant this?''
We had previously posted about other alleged attempts by Merck executives to stifle criticism of Vioxx.

As I said then, if physicians and researchers cannot openly discuss scientific findings, science will not advance. If they cannot openly discuss possible harms to patients, patients may be harmed.

What this anecdote adds may be some insight into the cognition of some health care executives. Gilmartin seemed to take the whole thing personally, or at least politically. He allegedly spoke as if Topol was attacking Vioxx, rather than simply noting evidence supporting the possibility of its cardiac adverse effects. This indicates potentially a fundamental misunderstanding of how scientists and clinicians think, and of how science and clinical medicine works.

Again, health care would be better served if its leaders had some understanding of the clinical and scientific context.

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