[Marxism] PBS Merck Infomercial

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 3 08:30:31 MST 2005

Last night while channel surfing, I watched about 10 minutes of a PBS show 
on channel 13 that was practically kissing the feet of Merck, a huge drug 
company, for making some medicine that fights river blindness free to 
Subsaharan Africans. I said to myself, "This fucking show has to be funded 
by Merck."

I was right.

About the Rx for Survival Project

During the twentieth century, the world lived through a golden era in 
public health: vaccines were discovered, diseases were cured, and the 
average life expectancy rose by many years. In recent decades, however, 
this stunning progress has declined dramatically. Although life expectancy 
remains high in developed nations, in many countries of the developing 
world it has actually fallen.

The march to better world health has been slowed by the emergence of new 
and devastating diseases such as AIDS, SARS and West Nile virus, by 
microbial resistance to many modern drugs and by a global travel network 
that can turn a local disease into an international outbreak in a matter of 

Recognizing the impact of both the slow down in medical advances and the 
speeding up of new and stronger diseases, the award-winning documentary 
team of WGBH's NOVA Science Unit and Vulcan Productions, Inc., is 
co-producing a groundbreaking multimedia project to address what makes us 
sick, what keeps us healthy and what it would take to give good health the 
upper hand...

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Merck Company 
Foundation, Rx for Survival and Rx for Child Survival have been developed 
in partnership with the Global Health Council and with the advice of other 
leading global health experts and organizations.


My guess is that any free medicine that Merck is handing out now is part of 
a calculated PR effort to deflect attention from the bad publicity the 
company received in the aftermath of the Vioxx affair.

Merck CEO Resigns as Drug Probe Continues
House Panel Critical Of Vioxx Sales Tactics

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005; A01

Merck & Co.'s longtime leader Raymond V. Gilmartin abruptly resigned 
yesterday on the same day congressional investigators released a slew of 
documents detailing how the company continued to aggressively promote its 
arthritis drug Vioxx after it knew of potentially serious safety concerns.

The documents made public by the House Committee on Government Reform 
showed that Merck directed its 3,000-person Vioxx sales force to avoid 
discussions with doctors about the cardiovascular risks identified in a 
major clinical trial of the drug in 2000. Sales representatives were told 
instead to rely on a "Cardiovascular Card" that said Vioxx was protecting 
the heart rather than potentially harming it.

Vioxx was withdrawn from the market last September after another clinical 
trial found that people who had taken the drug for 18 months were five 
times more likely to have heart attacks and strokes than those on a 
placebo. The withdrawal tarnished Merck's reputation and cost the firm 
billions in sales, stock value and legal fees.

The company, which had earlier said Gilmartin, 64, would stay in place 
until his scheduled retirement next year, said his sudden departure as 
chairman, president and chief executive officer had nothing to do with the 
Vioxx controversy. Merck named its president for manufacturing, Richard T. 
Clark, to replace Gilmartin as chief executive officer and president.

The resignation of Gilmartin, after he spent 11 years at the helm, came on 
a day when Merck was sharply criticized in a hearing into how the company 
and the Food and Drug Administration had handled the safety concerns 
surrounding Vioxx.

Merck and other drug companies say their "detailers" act as neutral 
educators to guide physicians in prescribing drugs, but the more than 
20,000 pages of documents released yesterday showed that Merck's 
representatives were coached to be aggressive salesmen.

They were trained how to smile, speak and position themselves most 
effectively when talking with doctors, and were exhorted to sell Vioxx and 
other Merck drugs using the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" 

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) read from a Merck training manual that 
directed instructors to play a recording of the speech and then say to the 
sales force: "King was someone with goal-focus -- he kept getting shut down 
but kept going. . . . Just as with a physician, you must keep repeating the 
compelling message and at some point, the physician will be 'free at last' 
when he or she prescribes the Merck drug, if that is most appropriate for 
the patient."

"Merck says the mission of its sales force is to educate doctors," said 
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the panel's ranking Democrat. "This sales 
force is given extraordinary training so that it can capitalize on 
virtually every interaction with doctors. Yet when it comes to the one 
thing doctors most need to know about Vioxx -- its health risks -- Merck's 
answer seems to be disinformation and censorship."

Dennis Erb, Merck's vice president for global regulatory development, said 
that company's actions were timely and appropriate, and that detailers were 
trained to be "accurate and balanced" in presenting information. He said 
Merck has conducted 70 clinical trials on Vioxx involving more than 40,000 
patients, and the company is discussing with the FDA whether to apply for 
approval to resume marketing the drug.

"We believe Merck acted appropriately and responsibly to extensively study 
Vioxx after it was approved for marketing to gain more clinical information 
about the medicine," he said. "And we promptly disclosed the results of 
these studies to the FDA, physicians, the scientific community and the media."

Erb defended Merck's policy of instructing its representatives not to tell 
doctors about the troubling cardiovascular results from a large 2000 
clinical trial called Vigor. Until it withdrew Vioxx, Merck had argued that 
naproxen -- the control drug in the 2000 trial -- lowered cardiovascular 
risks, not that Vioxx raised them.

Erb said the FDA had not approved adding the trial results to the drug 
label and so they could not be discussed except by senior officials. But 
Erb acknowledged that the company did allow drug representatives to say 
that the 2000 trial had established that Vioxx helped reduce 
gastrointestinal bleeding. That policy led some congressmen to accuse Merck 
of disclosing the good news about Vioxx but hiding the bad.

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) joined Democrats on the committee in sharply 
questioning Merck and the FDA. "It seems to me there's a disconnect here," 
he said. "You're saying your policies are legal, but are they ethical? 
Isn't this the scandal?"

A 2004 study by FDA safety officer David Graham and others estimated that 
Vioxx caused as many as 140,000 heart attacks and strokes and killed as 
many as 55,000 people. Vioxx, which was approved by the FDA in May 1999, 
reached $2 billion in sales in two years, faster than any drug in Merck's 

The FDA's Steven Galson, acting director of the Center for Drug Evaluation 
and Research, also came under criticism for the agency's handling of the 
Vioxx case, especially for the substantial lag time before the worrisome 
cardiovascular data from the 2000 trial were added to the drug's label. 
Galson said the agency had learned through the Vioxx episode that it should 
give doctors and patients more information about drugs as the incomplete 
research results come in.

"The most important lesson . . . is that the American public, practitioners 
and patients want to get clear and accurate information as early as 
possible so they can participate in their own health care decisions," 
Galson said.

The hearing also explored previously reported efforts by Merck to 
"neutralize" doctors who had concerns about Vioxx's safety by paying them 
to take part in clinical trials and offering grants and consultancies. 
Merck officials said their efforts were designed to dispel misinformation 
about their product.

Until the Vioxx debacle, Gilmartin and Merck were highly regarded in the 
pharmaceutical industry. Gilmartin was a pioneer in providing cheap or free 
AIDS drugs to Africa, and Merck was long considered one of the most ethical 
-- and profitable -- companies. Since Sept. 30, the company has lost 
one-third of its stock value.

In a conference call yesterday, Lawrence A. Bossidy, the new chairman of 
the Merck board's executive committee, said of Gilmartin, "In no way did we 
push him out." He said the company decided it was "time for change."

Gilmartin's successor, Clark, 59, has been president of Merck's 
manufacturing division, which operates plants in 25 countries. Clark also 
served as chief executive of Medco Health Solutions Inc., one of the 
country's biggest managers of prescription drug programs.



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