Australian class action against Merck over Vioxx safety risks

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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.

The case

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." [1]

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."[1]

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."[2] 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 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."[3]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles



  1. 1.0 1.1 Milanda Rout, "Evidence and PR spin collide in Vioxx courtroom battle", The Australian, April 24, 2009.
  2. "Merck published fake journal", The Scientist magazine, April 30, 2009.
  3. Summer Johnson, "Merck Makes Phony Peer-Review Journal", (blog), May 1, 2009.

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