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Marketing "Gifts": How Merck Sold Vioxx

While I was reviewing this awesome piece about Merck's marketing tactics behind pushing Vioxx in today's New York Times, I was struck by the company's strategic use of a physician "hit list," promotional activities and huge amolunts of cash to neutralize its prime competitor, Celebrex. And, I suspect, largely because G.D. Searle's Celebrex beat Merck to the market.

The Times obtained a plethora of documents from a public official, including e-mail messages, memorandums and spreadsheets, some of which involved physicians Merck wanted to "neutralize." Others described promotional activities aimed at doctors not on that list.

In some documents written by a Merck marketing executive, influential but "problem" physicians whom the company believed had either a negative view of Merck or Vioxx or were active boosters of Celebrex were targeted. To win them over, the documents showed Merck officials sought to offer them gifts, including:

  • Clinical trials
  • Posts as consultants
  • Grants

Leading off the story was a prime example of Merck's "dirty tricks." Over a cozy dinner in Miami, Merck successfully won the support of a nationally known rheumatologist by writing a check for $25,000 to fund a clinical trial of Vioxx. One of the physicians targeted on Merck's "hit list" likened the competition between Searle and Merck not unlike the "Coke-Pepsi wars."

If you recall, I posted warnings about the toxicity of Vioxx some six years ago. Even then, I knew this drug was a prescription for disaster. I specifically recall conversations with Merck drug reps that laughed at me when I showed them the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I doubt they are laughing now...

New York Times February 11, 2005

The Ledger February 11, 2005

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