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Pharma Phacts: In the Media

Merck, Sharp and Dohme: Vioxx

Vioxx, an anti-arthritis medication was voluntarily withdrawn from the market in September of 2004 after concerns about increased cardiovascular risk were raised in a clinical trial, VIGOR published in March 2000. Merck, Sharp and Dohme and its parent company Merck & Co are being sued by more than 1000 Australians, led by Graeme Peterson, who alleges the drug caused his heart attack in December 2003.  Mr Peterson says the company knew about the cardio-vascular risk of Vioxx and played it down long before it voluntarily recalled the drug in September, 2004. Merck is fighting the class action, claiming it did nothing wrong.

The trial has revealed many marketing techniques from a pharmaceutical company including:
treating rheumatologists to expensive dinners at restaurants, wineries and hotels
producing the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine and marketing it as ‘independent’
‘familiarisation’ programs about Vioxx for pharmacists
using nurses to hunt for 100 suitable patients from each GP practice
training pharmaceutical representatives to respond to cardiovascular concerns raised by doctors
spend $6 million in samples and $8.5million in promotion in 2002, and $5.84 million in promotion and $4.1 million on samples in 2003
“blocking strategy” by booking expert speakers to Merck meetings when competitor products were being launched
patient loyalty programs

Penny Dobson, who was the director of marketing for Vioxx and other drugs from 2001 to 2003 says the company never promoted Vioxx as “safe” to the marketplace, rather they just used the heading “safety” in promotional material addressing health concerns about the drug, like “cardiovascular safety”.

“Safe means something in particular. Safety is more of a heading,” she said. “We did not ever say Vioxx was safe.”

The company settled legal action in the US in 2007 for $US4.85 billion ($5.97bn) but has not admitted liability. The trial continues in Australia.

Nurses paid to scout for Vioxx drug firm
Milanda Rout | May 19, 2009
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25504484-5018983,00.html

Merck’s Big Push on Vioxx revealed
The Australia, May 23 2009
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25524987-5018983,00.html

Vioxx trial- All articles from The Australian
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/indepth/section/0,,5018983.html

 

 

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Pharma Phacts are a medical student group committed to raising awareness about pharmaceutical companies and their interactions with medical students.