Used phony journals to push Vioxx
pharma giant Merck has been accused of using unscrupulous methods, including publication of fake journals, to promote its anti-arthritis drug Vioxx.
The evidence against Merck was presented before an Australian court in May after it began hearing a four-year-old lawsuit. Merck paid a well-known academic publisher, Elsevier, to compile favourable articles on Vioxx and Fosamax, an osteoporosis drug, and made them look like peer-reviewed publications; six publications were brought out between 2000 and 2005.
The fake journals were exposed when George Jelinek, a doctor in Perth, Australia, found they were just a collection of reprints from other Elsevier journals with reviews, news and commentary on Merck's drugs. In one such issue of Australasian Journal of Bones and Joint Medicine, 21 of the 29 articles were about Vioxx and Fosamax.Only a person familiar with the editing of medical journals would have spotted the difference, said Jelinek. One of the persons listed on the editorial board, Peter Brooks, said he neither received any manuscript nor was paid. "Such practices are unethical. Some doctors get misled by such spurious research, especially when they don't keep track of the latest study," said Amar Jesani, coordinator of the Centre for Studies in Ethics and Rights, Mumbai.
Elsevier, which also brings out the science journal Lancet, called it an isolated case. "The publications (fake journals) were produced at a regional pharma customs division product and was not part of our medical journals business," said Tom Reller, director of corporate relations for Elsevier.
Lead plaintiff Graeme Peterson, representing over 1,000 Australians, said he suffered heart stroke in 2003 after using the drug. Vioxx was recalled in 2004 when it was linked to increased risk of cardiac arrests. American patients who sued the company were paid US $4.85 billion by Merck in an out-of-court settlement in 2007.
The plaintiffs also presented in court Merck's budget documents detailing a plan to spend US $14.5 million on promoting Vioxx. Other strategies include paying nurses to trawl through confidential patient records for potential Vioxx patients. The company also produced a manual to help its sales representatives counter concerns of doctors about the drug.
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