Australian class action against Merck over Vioxx safety risks
In Australia, the pharmaceutical company Merck is the subject of a class action brought by Slater & Gordon on behalf of Graeme Peterson, a Melbourne man who suffered a heart attack after several years' use of VIOXX.
Australians who took the pain medication Vioxx allege that Merck and its Australian subsidiary, Merck Sharp & Dohme, "knew Vioxx increased the risk of heart attacks long before it voluntarily withdrew the drug from the market in 2004." 
Merck has paid $4.85 billion to U.S. Vioxx patients, but never admitted liability. As the Australian trial proceeds, Merck's public relations people from the Kreab & Gavin Anderson firm "follow journalists out of court, ask them what they are writing, hand out daily press releases and send 'background' emails they say should not be attributed to the company but which detail what they think are the 'salient points' from the evidence presented in court." The firm also phones reporters who write critical articles, to accuse "them of 'cherry-picking' the evidence and bombards newspapers with letters to the editor ... five were sent to The Australian in just seven days." Merck's Australian PR team, along with U.S. Merck spokeswoman Casey Stavropoulos, attends each day of the trial. The PR team sit near journalists covering the case, at one point even "looking over the shoulders of journalists at their notepads."
The pharmaceutical company Merck "paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles -- most of which presented data favorable to Merck products." The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine carried "ads for Fosamax, a Merck drug for osteoporosis, and Vioxx" and "appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship." Merck's marketing ploy was unearthed as part of the Australian Vioxx lawsuits. The publisher, Elsevier, admits "that the journals in question didn't have appropriate disclosures." A member of the journal's "Honorary Editorial Board," Australian rheumatologist Peter Brooks, has worked with Merck, Pfizer and Amgen, and put his name on "a few advertorials" for drug companies. "I'm sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, 'As published in the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications,'" a Bioethics.net blog states. "If physicians would not lend their names or pens to these efforts, and publishers would not offer their presses, these publications could not exist."
Articles and resources
Related SourceWatch articles
- Merck Sharp & Dohme Australia and Merck & Co, "Vioxx® Litigation Update", website archive on responses to class action revelations.
- Slater and Gordon Vioxx class action website: http://www.slatergordon.com.au/pages/class_actions_vioxx.aspx
- Slater and Gordon video on YouTube on the Vioxx class action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjA-hDa6W9s
- Links to Court Records: http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinosrch.cgi?method=phrase&query=GRAEME+ROBERT+PETERSON&meta=%2Fau&mask_path=
- Milanda Rout, "Evidence and PR spin collide in Vioxx courtroom battle", The Australian, April 24, 2009.
- "Merck published fake journal", The Scientist magazine, April 30, 2009.
- Summer Johnson, "Merck Makes Phony Peer-Review Journal", Bioethics.net (blog), May 1, 2009.
- Milanda Rout, "Vioxx maker Merck and Co drew up doctor hit list", The Australian, April 01, 2009.
- Milanda Rout, "Doctors signed Merck's Vioxx studies", The Australian, April 09, 2009.
- Milanda Rout, "Drug representatives for Merck & Co given 'cheatsheets'", The Australian, April 16, 2009.
- Kate Hagan, "Drug firm disguised link to positive journal article, court told", The Sydney Morning Herald, April 23, 2009.
- "Evidence, spin collide in Vioxx case". The Australian, April 24, 2009.
- Orac, "When big pharma pays a publisher to publish a fake journal...", Respectful Insolence (blog), May 4, 2009.
- Kate Hagan, "Merck begins Vioxx defence", The Age, May 5, 2009.
- "Merck says Vioxx had heart-risk 'association'", The Age, May 6, 2009.
- Milanda Rout, "Drug firm staff 'stalled price and safety probe'", The Australian, May 14, 2009.
- Natasha Singer, "Trial Puts Spotlight on Merck", New York Times, May 13, 2009.
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