AN international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be “neutralised” or discredited because they criticised the anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced. Staff at US company Merck &Co emailed each other about the list of doctors – mainly researchers and academics – who had been negative about the drug Vioxx or Merck and a recommended course of action.

The email, which came out in the Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday as part of a class action against the drug company, included the words “neutralise”, “neutralised” or “discredit” against some of the doctors’ names. It is also alleged the company used intimidation tactics against critical researchers, including dropping hints it would stop funding to institutions and claims it interfered with academic appointments. “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live,” a Merck employee wrote, according to an email excerpt read to the court by Julian Burnside QC, acting for the plaintiff.

Merck & Co and its Australian subsidiary, Merck, Sharpe and Dohme, are being sued for compensation by more than 1000 Australians, who claim they suffered heart attacks or strokes as a result of Vioxx. The drug was launched in 1999 and at its height of popularity was used by 80 million people worldwide because it did not cause stomach problems as did traditional anti-inflammatory drugs.

It was voluntarily withdrawn from sale in 2004 after concerns were raised that it caused heart attacks and strokes and a clinical trial testing these potential side affects was aborted for safety reasons. Lead plaintiff Graeme Peterson, 58, claims the drug caused him to have a heart attack in 2003 after he took it for back pain and arthritis every day from May 2001. Merck last year settled thousands of lawsuits in the US over the effects of Vioxx for $US4.85billion ($7.14 billion) but made no admission of guilt.

“It gives you the dark side of the use of key opinion leaders and thought leaders … if (they) say things you don’t like to hear, you have to neutralise them,” he said. “It does suggest a certain culture within the organisation about how to deal with your opponents and those who disagree with you.” The court was told that James Fries, professor of medicine at Stanford University, wrote to the then Merck head Ray Gilmartin in October 2000 to complain about the treatment of some of his researchers who had criticised the drug.

Former CEO Gilmartin who ran Merck during the “hit list” era is now a board member at Microsoft.

  1. Dallas says:

    Improving efficiencies in healthcare and stemming corrupt practices by the big corporations will save Americans 100’s of billions of dollars.

    President Obama to the rescue.

    It’s about time the crippling economic issues associated with the healthcare industry get addressed.

    I’m astonished how many critical domestic issues Mr Obama has been able to put on the front burner. He is a super hero.

  2. Mr Diesel says:

    #1 Dallas said

    “Improving efficiencies in healthcare and stemming corrupt practices by the big corporations will save Americans 100’s of billions of dollars.”

    Yes, but your super hero isn’t going to do it.

    The reason I’m posting on this one is because Vioxx was an absolutely fantastic medicine for me. Side effects? Big deal. It kept me pain free without being on narcotics for joint problems. Have you read the labels on any medication lately? Hells bells man aspirin wouldn’t be approved today.

    But no, your hero is going to try and screw up our health care system.

  3. Cherry says:

    What was Merck doing during WWII?

  4. Mr. Fusion says:

    #2, Mr. Diesel

    I miss my Vioxx. For me it was a wonder drug for the relief. Maybe I should be happy I was one of those who ended up with a stroke or heart disease.

    As for health care reform, damn I hope you are wrong. If it happens, it will be this year.

  5. SoWhat says:

    Dear Mr. Diesel,

    I’m sincerely glad you found relief using that drug. However, your comment is entirely beside the point.

    The article is about the underhanded tactics the drug company used to silence honest and principled opinions about side effects.

    Had you suffered serious side effects, you would have a different opinion.

    Merk is only one of companies that do that sort of thing.

  6. Mr. Fusion says:

    RE #4,

    oops, that second sentence should have read,

    I should be happy I was NOT one of those who ended up with a stroke or heart disease.

  7. You would think that you were dealing with pre owned car salesman or the Obama administration running the American auto industry

  8. Rick Cain says:

    Cox-2 inhibitors are still legal for use in Veterinary medicine, so the stuff vets push on you can kill your dog or cat, be warned.
    There are much safer alternatives such as simple aspirin, or opiates which are effective and have been used safely for decades.
    The problem is the drug companies pay vets to push these drugs, because they are profitable. they’re costly and you will see it in your bill.

  9. Greg Allen says:

    While we are reforming healthcare, the drug companies must become non-profit.

  10. deowll says:

    The soviets and others have proven that if you want to motivate people let them act out of greed and self interest.

    Non profit means not much advance in medical research.

    You just have to watch the swine.

  11. agp says:

    “and have been used safely for decades.”

    Try centuries.

  12. Mr Diesel says:

    #6 Mr Fusion

    I figured that’s what you meant but I also knew it could have been your wit…..

    #5 SoWhat

    Having my chest cracked three years ago puts me into the category of a possible side effect of Vioxx.

    #8 and #11

    It would not matter to some people what the side effects were in order to be relieved from the pain. I still have my empty pill bottle hoping some day the US will wise up and let people accept the risk.

    As for the point of the article, yes, I might have posted off point and I sincerely believe that if a doctor has a conscience he should follow it and report the problems.

    But everyone must remember that the new administration won’t let a doctor have a conscience. While I believe in a woman’s right to choose up to a point I don’t believe a doctor should be forced to perform one.

  13. Rick Cain says:

    I gave my dog 1 pill of a cox-2 inhibitor. he was sick for 3 days and vomited yellow froth. I’d say thats more than a minor side effect. Turns out he didn’t even need it. The vet misdiagnosed the problem, all the dog needed was to take a poop, it was constipated.

  14. Wretched Gnu says:

    But wait — Republicans keep telling me that these corporations don’t need regulation or oversight because they love the law over all things, even profit! Me confused.

  15. oscord says:

    Can CEO not be prosecuted for negligence causing harm and death?


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