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PHARMA: Merck knew more than it let on about Vioxx

A group of emails from within Merck show that the scientists were questioning the data and the marketing people were telling the sales reps to obfuscate. This is really ugly stuff. Taken on its own the views from the scientists aren’t too bad, as they state the actual truth — that good drugs have side effects. But the trial lawyers will not care about that and Merck’s stock is down another 10% today. And you can just imagine the courtroom scene where the plaintiff’s attorney reads management’s instructions to the sales reps to “dodge” questions from doctors about the safety record of Vioxx versus its competitors.

Merck’s long-term is looking bleaker and bleaker. Even though Arcoxia, its new Cox-2 may make it through the FDA — it got a go slow but positive letter last week — the combination of the settlement for Vioxx and the fractured trust with doctors and patients really spells the end of Merck’s reign as the most trusted of the “scientific” pharmaceutical companies that it enjoyed when Vagelos was the CEO. Expect some other pharma to come after Merck within a few months, but perhaps after it’s got a little cheaper.

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