In a seemingly shifty move back in 1999, Merck apparently provided financial incentives to 600 physicians to recruit patients into a study called ADVANTAGE, that the company then said aimed to determine if Vioxx users had fewer stomach complaints than patients on other pain medications.
In fact, marketers at Merck likely developed the study with an entirely different purpose.
After reviewing about a million documents in preparation for upcoming Vioxx lawsuits, physicians found several internal company memos saying that the real aim of the study was to get as many docs and patients as possible in the habit of taking the drug just in time for its launch.
An article printed in the Annals of Internal Medicine today said that, "Documentary evidence shows that ADVANTAGE is an example of marketing framed as science. The documents indicate that ADVANTAGE was a seeding trial developed by Merck's marketing division to promote prescription of Vioxx (rofecoxib) when it became available on the market in 1999."
While this isn't the first time we've heard of such drug company scientific seeding, it is the first proven case, according to the reputable peer-reviewed journal. Journal editor Harold Sox added that Merck did not inform the journal of the true purpose of the study.
Obviously, such practices put patients at undue risk and raise serious ethical concerns.
A Merck spokesperson is claiming that any marketing use of the data was an afterthought, and that "the ADVANTAGE study was primarily a scientific study." However, the discovered documents make it quite clear that the pharma company's marketing division designed the study, collected the data and performed the data analysis. To top it off, top Merck execs later nominated ADVANTAGE for an internal marketing award.