Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) was the subject of several critical articles and editorials in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). JAMA, along with the New England Journal of Medicine are the two most prestigious medical journals in the world. Critcism of the once revered pharmceutical giant, Merck, would have been unthinkable in the not too distant past. The New England Journal has previously weighed in against Merck for submitting articles for publication that contained false data. The JAMA article was critical of Merck’s handling of research data. In an Alzheimer’s trial to show Vioxx could delay the onset of the disease, the data showed a significantly higher risk in mortality for those taking Vioxx. So these seniors were actually killed by Vioxx instead of Vioxx helping their Alzheimer’s. None of this information was generally available before Merck entered into the global settlement in November of 2007.
Today’s attack on Merck, including an editorial by JAMA’s editor, Catherine DeAngelis, said that JAMA had been duped by a ghostwritten manuscript in 2002 that compared Vioxx with two competitor’s drugs for knee pain. She accepted partial responsiblity for not having better oversight of what was published. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, she lambasted medical ghostwriters, calling their work “a terrible form of prostitution” and said it was another sign of how doctors and researchers had succumbed to drug firms’ influence. Vioxx was the most profitable drug for Merck until it was withdrawn from the worldwide markets on September 20, 2004. Merck, while denying responsibility, has agreed to pay a staggering $4.85 billion dollars to Vioxx victims. Those are folks who suffered heart attacks and strokes because of their Vioxx use.