Thursday, June 09, 2005

First, do no harm (to the stock, that is)

A rather damning piece tonight on NPR re: Big Pharma, the 800 pound gorilla of contemporary medicine:

Inside Merck, Susan Baumgartner, a Vioxx marketing manager, wrote this e-mail:

"June 19, 2000: Dr. Singh continues to play up the cardiovascular adverse events associated with Vioxx... I think there are many other speakers who deliver good messages, and we should not risk supporting the negative messages that he continues to deliver."

The Merck sales machine, which included the departments of marketing, scientific education and physician outreach, had begun to show its other face. It had paid Singh fat speaking fees. Now it was canceling many of his educational lectures.

The documents obtained by NPR show that for much of June 2000, Merck executives conferred on how to rein in their skeptical consultant. At least 23 local, regional and national executives took part in the discussions. They feared that just as Singh's credibility had opened doors for Merck, it could close them.


Dealing with Singh was now a job for Merck's senior vice president for medical and scientific affairs -- Dr. Louis Sherwood. Sherwood was a former academic and had been chief of medicine at a top medical school.

Merck documents obtained by NPR show that a detailed account of Singh's activities was now prepared for Sherwood. Almost a dozen Merck executives were involved. A senior regional executive who had supervised Singh's scientific handlers sent this Oct. 4, 2000, e-mail:

"I have in excess of 80 e-mails pertaining to interactions with Dr. Singh from March 1999 to present. The following is my best recollection of what has happened. Because of the sensitive nature of the following, I strongly encourage you not to share with anyone unless they clearly have a need to know."

The profile of Dr. Singh is remarkably complete," says Columbia's David Rothman, who reviewed the final document for NPR. "One can't help but almost frame it in terms of an FBI dossier, except here Dr. Singh is not cavorting with possible communists, or possible gangsters. Here the dossier is filled with Dr. Singh's take on Vioxx, who is Dr. Singh talking to. It's scrupulously watched and very, very carefully recorded."

The profile was dispatched to Sherwood and six other executives. Around the same time, Singh heard from a friend inside Merck: "I was told that Dr. Lou Sherwood, who was then vice president at Merck, had become 'very interested,' in quotes, in what I was doing, and that Dr. Sherwood is "very powerful, and he's going to crush you and he's going to fix you.'"

Transcript of the entire piece is here. In a Law & Order world, a number of these guys would be looking at prosecution for negligent homicide. Where's Sam Waterston when you need him?


Blogger SantaBarbarian said...

I heard this in the car coming home from work...or at least part of it.

It had to be one of the scariest pieces I have ever heard NPR do.

We don't worship in churches, we worship the all mighty dollar on Wall Street. Money before long to democracy.

4:42 PM  

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