60 Minutes had a second (or third) to market piece on Vioxx on Sunday night. It’s about time CBS had a fish in a barrel to shoot, given their complete horlicks they made of the "Bush desertion to rehab in Alabama" story. But they shot this fish, although I don’t think there’s anything new here. Other, of course, that middle America doesn’t read the WSJ or the NY Times, but they do watch 60 Minutes and now perhaps Dodgeball will no longer be a standard procedure in sales teams across America. As one wag on the PharmaMarketing list serv mentioned, how much more does it take for people in corporate America to realize that anything written down in an email may come back to bite you? As the Industry Veteran summarized the Vioxx story:
We should point out the bitter irony that the damning Vioxx memos we’ve been seeing come from Merck, the outfit long regarded as the industry’s most science-driven company and the one with the highest ethical standards. I think for four or five years in a row, they were ranked by Tom Peters or some other flack as the "Best Company to Work For." (Of course that was such a sham because they bought that designation for themselves.) Well what do you know; a memo from their head of R&D, Edward Scolnick, shows they found out in 2000 that Vioxx had a real problem but they spent the next four years trying every which way not to acknowledge it. Then they tried to intimidate researchers who wanted to study Vioxx’s cardiovascular effects, for example, telling the department chairman of an eager Stanford researcher that the latter’s career would "flame out" if he persisted. They also withdrew over $300,000 in funding from the program of a Spanish researcher who was similarly interested in Vioxx’s dangers. To really put the cherry on the whipped cream, Merck started training its sales reps to play "dodgeball" with any physicians who asked about Vioxx’s harmful cardiovascular effects. And these are the guardians of our healthcare for whom we should raise the percentage of GDP spent on healthcare to 18%?
It certainly doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, or give much justification for Bob Ingram of GSK’s latest set of demands for the rest of us to provide the pharma industry.