Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Merck Vioxx Ad Settlement: Industry Back-Pedalling?

More possible evidence that the drug industry is currently back-pedalling in the face of rotten publicity over failed new drugs, heightened Congressional scrutiny, and loss of public respect comes from the announced Merck settlement of lawsuits alleging inappropriate direct-to-consumer advertising of Vioxx. So far all I have read about this is the summary of news reports in the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report (other links in report):

The settlement has Merck forking over $58M which of course is peanuts to major drug firms. Here's what appears to be significant--first, Merck has agreed to tight controls on future ads; and second, quite astounding in my view, Merck has also agreed to end ghostwriting practices (though given the secrecy with which ghostwriting of scientific papers occurs, how are we to know about compliance?). The main significance of this last provision, if any, is that Merck presumably had to admit to ghostwriting if it agreed to stop. I also wonder--if Merck was this ready to say it would give up ghostwriting, could it be because Merck sees the handwriting on the wall as medical centers move to adopt much more Pharma-unfriendly conflict-of-interest policies--and has made the guess that in the future it will be that much harder to get academic docs to sign on as putative authors on ghostwritten manuscripts?

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