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The Marketplace Reader

Vioxx clinical study influenced by marketing

Melissa Kaplan Aug 19, 2008

The painkiller Vioxx, which was found to double the risk of heart attack and stroke, has been off the market for nearly four years. This morning, a report on Vioxx published by the Annals of Internal Medicine has reached a startling conclusion. Merck’s original study on the drug’s side effects was done primarily to support a marketing campaign.


The study, which recruited 600 doctors, was crafted by Merck’s marketing department to get physicians to prescribe Vioxx, the researchers wrote. The report provides some of the first evidence of what is thought to be a widespread practice: enlisting doctors for a study to boost their confidence in a new drug and get them to promote it to colleagues, they said.

The Advantage study “was marketing masquerading as science,” said lead author Kevin Hill, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, in an Aug. 15 telephone interview. “They went about this in a very analytic way, picking doctors who would be most influential, who will talk to other doctors and recommend Vioxx to them, and thus increase prescriptions in the area, planting the seeds of additional Vioxx use.”

Most startling quote to me: Jonathan Edelman, executive director of Merck Research Laboratories’ global center for scientific affairs, said: “As with all Merck clinical research, there is a commercial interest.”

We’re hearing about this about nine years after the first Vioxx trials. It certainly makes you wonder about the validity of other drug studies out there, and what kind of backlash we’ll see as a result of this one.

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