April 15, 2008 -- Two studies appearing in Tuesday's Journal of the
American Medical Association have prompted the journal's editors to call
for "drastic action" to prevent drug companies from misrepresenting
data from clinical trials.
The two investigations involve the painmedication Vioxx, which was taken off the market in
2004 after being linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes among
long-term users. The revelations are the latest to come to light from lawsuits
brought by people who claimed they'd been harmed by Vioxx.
Researchers charged that the drug's manufacturer, Merck, withheld key data
from Vioxx trials from federal regulators and misrepresented the Vioxx
research. The JAMA editors agreed, but they added that the problems are
pervasive within the industry and not confined to Merck.
"The (two studies) document how one company, Merck & Co. Inc.,
apparently manipulated dozens of publications to promote one of its
products," the journal's editor in chief and executive deputy editor write.
"But make no mistake -- the manipulation of study results, authors,
editors, and reviews is not the sole purview of one company."
Merck Responds to Criticism
In one of the JAMA articles, researchers charge that data from
clinical trials showing a threefold increase in deaths among Vioxx users were
withheld from the FDA for more than two years.
In their review of the data and internal company documents made public
during civil litigation against Vioxx, the two researchers from the University
of Washington, Seattle say the company appears to have misrepresented Vioxx's
safety profile in studies involving Alzheimer's patients. One of those researchers, Richard
A. Kronmal, PhD, was retained as an expert witness by plaintiffs' attorneys in
In a separate analysis of the court documents, another group of researchers
concluded that Merck misled federal regulators and the public about its role in
the Vioxx studies by naming outside investigators who had little to do with
those studies as principal investigators. All of these researchers served as
paid consultants to plantiffs in Vioxx litigation.
A spokesman for the company tells WebMD that both charges are unfounded
and that the company plans to formally respond to the JAMA
"All of Merck's disclosures to the FDA and the medical community were
proper and appropriate," Merck legal spokesman Kent Jarrell says.
"We heard the points presented in these articles during the litigation
and we rebutted them with evidence," Jarrell says. "It was a case of
trial lawyer's antic masquerading as scientific substance."
JAMA Calls for Reforms
The JAMA editorial notes that the "manipulation of studies and
misrepresentation of study results could not have occurred without the
cooperation (active and tacit) of clinical researchers, other authors, journal
editors, peer reviewer, and the FDA."
It further noted that the public's trust in clinical research is in great
jeopardy because the extent of the problem is not known.