The Truth About Vioxx

When the anti-inflamatory drug Vioxx was pulled from the market last year, Merck CEO Raymond V. Gilmartin adamantly defended the companies conduct. Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Gilmartin claimed Merck had been completely honest about the health risks:

Merck has promptly disclosed the results of Merck-sponsored studies of Vioxx to the FDA, physicians, the scientific community and the media.

As part of a Congressional investigation, Rep. Henry Waxman obtained over 20,000 internal documents from Merck. The documents show “sent over 3,000 highly trained representatives into doctor’s offices and hospitals armed with misleading information about Vioxx’s health risks.” A couple ofthe lowlights:

After Merck’s VIGOR study reported increased heart attack risks, Merck directed its sales force to show physicians a “Cardiovascular Card” that made it appear that Vioxx could be 8 to 11 times safer than other anti-inflammatory drugs. This card omitted any reference to the VIGOR findings and was based on data FDA considered to be inappropriate for a safety analysis. After the FDA advisory committee voted that physicians should be informed about the risks found in the VIGOR study, Merck sent a bulletin to its sales force that advised: “DO NOT INITIATE DISCUSSIONS ON THE FDA ARTHRITIS COMMITTEE … OR THE RESULTS OF THE … VIGOR STUDY.” If physicians asked about the VIGOR study, Merck representatives were directed to respond, “I cannot discuss the study with you.”


Much more in this report.

UPDATE: Today, Gilmartin was replaced as CEO of Merck.