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Vioxx trial sees marketing attacked

according to reports Merck was too heavy-handed with the marketing for pain reliever Vioxx and its 'sales before science' sentiment contributed to the calamitous unfolding of events that ensued

Merck was too heavy-handed with the marketing for pain reliever Vioxx and its 'sales before science' sentiment contributed to the calamitous unfolding of events that ensued, according to reports of the prosecution's zealous opening statement in an ongoing trial.

The pharmaceutical company has heard from the lawyer of a widow, who claims that Vioxx caused the death of her ìathleticî husband, that `greed and misleading promotion' were to blame. Mark Lanier, attorney for Carol Ernst, also accused the company of manipulating data to downplay the cardiovascular risks associated with Vioxx (rofecoxib).

Merck's legal representative retaliated, asserting that any decisions made by the company regarding Vioxx were based on science, and not profits, arguing that all Vioxx trial data whether good or bad had been submitted to the regulators.

Lawyer David Kiernan also made clear that there was no conclusive medical link between the death of Mr Robert Ernst and his Vioxx medication. Mr Ernst died from heart problems, yet it is understood that his fatal condition was linked to a form of arrhythmia, which based on current knowledge, is not a side effect to Vioxx.

From Merck's point of view, it is crucial to the ultimate outcome of the case that it is successful in the early bouts. Failure now could hearten further plaintiffs to bring their cases into the court room, while if the firm can show that its science was proven and that decisions based on it were robust, then it may be able to take the momentum out of the prosecution's launch attack.

The nature of the early claims brought by the prosecution serves to highlight the potential for modern marketing and advertising practices to become a chink in the armour of a pharmaceutical company under scrutiny.

Success in sales and marketing has become the mainstay for many companies, as new blockbusters continue to elude R&D departments and pressure to reduce costs increases.

ìPressure upon the industry to improve transparency regarding its promotional activities has increased several fold in the US since the withdrawal of Vioxx in September last year, but also in the UK where it was subjected to an overt probe by the government's Health Select Committee,î an industry source told PMLive.com.

ìHowever, that advertising and promotional practices are an easy target for detractors means that companies must be very clear on why they do what they do,î he noted.

Indeed, it is understood that industry leaders are working on a voluntary Code of Conduct for advertising, in a bid to support what some say is usually the Achilles heel in a company's defence in court.

30th September 2008

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