Bioethics Blogs

Merck Says It Regrets Strong-Arming Italian Researcher

[Forbes] Merck says that it “regrets” using legal threats to push a leading Italian researcher to muffle his public critiques of one of the company’s cholesterol drugs.

Merck spokesman Steve Cragle writes:

Merck is committed to the open and transparent exchange of scientific information. We believe this exchange should take place in medical meetings and peer-reviewed scientific publications. We believe this to be an isolated incident in Italy and regret how it was handled by our company. Merck has not taken any legal action in connection with this situation.

In a phone conversation, Cragle confirmed that the physician could post his arguments about the drug, ezetimibe, on his web site again without fear of legal reprisal coming from Merck. “We wouldn’t take any action against him,” Cragle said. Would the company take any internal action to keep this situation from repeating itself? “We’re certainly reviewing the situation,” Cragle said.

As first reported by the British Medical Journal, Alberto Donzelli, the director of education, appropriateness, and evidence-based medicine at the public health authority of Milan, had posted an analysis of ezetimibe’s effectiveness on the web that said that the drug should only rarely be used. He’d also been telling other doctors that he didn’t think they should prescribe the drug.

Ezetimibe, sold in the U.S. as Zetia and as Vytorin, which combines it with another cholesterol-lowering drug, is sold under the names Ezetrol and Inegy in much of the world. In both forms, the drug generated $5.6 billion in sales for Merck globally last year.

Executives at Merck, Sharp Sharp, and Dohme in Italy sent two cease-and-desist letters to Donzelli’s superiors, who initially supported him.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.