Ethical Analysis of Merck and Vioxx Essay

Ethical Analysis of Merck and Vioxx

How could Merck management have handled the research, development and marketing of Vioxx in a more ethically responsible fashion, if at all?

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On September 30, 2004, Merck & Company declared the drawback associated with Vioxx, its extremely profitable pain reducer for osteoarthritis victims, from the marketplace. This particular move came only 7 days after scientists within the company discovered in a medical trial that subjects who utilized Vioxx regularly over a period of 18 months were prone to a cardiac arrest. Merck chairman as well as CEO Raymond V. Gilmartin explained the decision to remove their most profitable product as “the sensible move to make.” He was quoted saying, “It’s included in our corporate foundations to work in this manner. That’s the reason why the management arrived at this particular decision.” Within the legal cases that succeeded, nevertheless, harming documents surfaced spreading question on Merck’s claim that they had acted reliably by taking suitable safety measures within not only the creation but also the marketing and advertising related to the medication (Boatright, 2012).

For many years, Merck’s outstanding status rested around the company’s focus on science-driven analysis as well as development. Merck used a number of the world’s most gifted as well as best-paid scientists and directed various other pharmaceutical companies in the publication associated with clinical articles and also the breakthrough of recent medicines for the treatments for severe problems that lacked a reasonable cure. For seven sequential years during the 1980s, Merck had been rated by Fortune magazine as being America’s respected enterprise. Merck obtained widespread awards particularly for the final decision, made during 1978, to move forward with research on the medication to prevent river loss of sight (onchocerciasis), which has been the devastating parasite virus that affects numerous in Africa, although the medication had been less likely to fund itself. Ultimately, Merck made a decision to hand out the actual drug, called Mectizan, provided required for around tens of millions of U.S. dollars each year. This sort of principled problem solving had been influenced through the words associated with George W. Merck, the child of the company’s creator: “We strive to remember that medicine has been for the sick consumers. This has not been for the profit margins. The earnings follow, and when we’ve appreciated that, they’ve never failed to show up. The greater we’ve appreciated it, the bigger they’ve been.” (Boatright, 2012)

Vioxx has been a good example of Merck’s revolutionary study. Created as being a treatment for the discomfort associated with arthritis, the drug serves as a good anti-inflammant by controlling an enzyme liable for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Additional drugs within the category of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) hinder the creation of 2 enzymes COX-1 as well as COX-2. Nevertheless, COX-1 has been essential for safeguarding the belly lining, and thus stomach problems and stomach blood loss have been possible negative effects of those medicines. The exclusive advantage of Vioxx over various other NSAID pain-killers, for example ibuprofen (Advil) as well as naproxen (Aleve), has been that it prevents the creation of just the COX-2 molecule, and never COX-1. After authorization through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during May 1999, Vioxx rapidly grew to become a well-liked best seller. In excess of 20 million sick consumers had taken Vioxx amid 1999 and 2004, and also at the time of the drawback, with Two million customers, Merck had been making $2.5 billion yearly or Eleven percent of the company’s overall income via the purchase related to the medication (Boatright, 2012).

The controversy

The prosperity of Vioxx arrived during a crucial time for Merck. Not only had been the actual patents on a number of lucrative medicines about to end, opening up the path for universal rivalry, but the aggressive atmosphere related to the whole pharmaceutical market had been going through fast change. Competition from generic medicines elevated significantly because of federal laws as well as because of the increase of huge, powerful managed care businesses, which wanted to reduce the price of prescription drugs by using formularies which constrained the drugs physicians could recommend. The introduction of brand new drugs had been progressively moving to small business minded research organizations centred on particular technologies, which decreased the actual competitive edge related to the conventional big pharmaceutical companies. Merck’s rivals reacted to changes in the aggressive setting by obtaining small businesses, creating new services that copied ones previously in the marketplace (so-called “me-too” medicines), getting into the generics marketplace, looking for extensions of patents soon after developing only small enhancements, and participating in intense advertising, such as the utilization of questionable direct-to-consumer (DTC) promoting (Boatright, 2012).


Merck requested authorization of Vioxx via the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during November 1998 and obtained permission during May 1999. In the month of January of 1999, a big research known as the Vioxx Gastrointestinal Outcomes Research (VIGOR) had been started (Bombardier et al. 2000). The outcomes had been released in the fall of 2000 within the New England Journal of Medicine. The document had 13 principle writers; two had been full-time workers of Merck, additionally, the remainder had financial connections with the enterprise (Bombardier et al. 2000, 1527). Within the research, roughly 4000 sufferers who experienced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms had been provided 50 milligrams of Vioxx every day (twice the FDA permitted quantity for long-term use), as well as roughly 4000 had been provided 500 milligrams of naproxen every day. The aim related to the research had been to check the amount of intestinal incidents that took place within the 2 groups. They discovered that Vioxx as well as naproxen had been similarly effective in relieving pain and that Vioxx had been linked to considerably lower gastrointestinal occurrences (Biddle, 2007).

However this had been not the only outcome in the research. Additionally, it discovered that the actual occurrence of myocardial infarction (cardiac arrest) had been 4 times higher within the Vioxx group as opposed to in the naproxen group (0.4% to 0.1%) (Bombardier et al. 2000, 1520). Whilst the experts of the research don’t give a conclusive reason behind this distinction, they claim that the main difference has been because of the capability of naproxen to lessen the chance of cardiac arrest and not to an inclination of Vioxx to raise it. Vioxx, they proposed, doesn’t induce cardiac arrest; it simply doesn’t prevent them (Biddle, 2007).

Considering that the outcomes related to the VIGOR research brought up the chance that Vioxx plays a role in cardio issues, many thought that, at this time, Merck must have looked into this likelihood directly. In May 2000, executives at Merck got together to go over specifically this inquiry (Berenson et al. 2004). However, after feedback from both business researchers as well as marketing and advertising authorities, Merck made the decision against carrying out additional research to check the actual cardiovascular results of Vioxx. Whilst Merck declines that this judgement had been driven by marketing worries, marketing authorities in the meeting had been highly against this method. The New York Times quotes a slide from the presentation at this gathering as reading: “At present, there has been no persuasive marketing requirement for this type of research. Data wouldn’t be accessible throughout the critical time period. The intended message is definitely not beneficial” (Berenson et al. 2004, online article). Quite simply, conducting a research that directly looked into the issue associated with whether or not Vioxx plays a role in cardio complications might have directed the incorrect signal-“wrong” with regards to the marketing concerns related to the organization (Biddle, 2007).

In the mean time, scientists beyond the borders of Merck had been becoming more and more worried about the actual dependability of Merck’s promises concerning the cardio safeness of Vioxx. For instance, in August 2001, Mukherjee, Nissen, as well as Topol released an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled, “Risk of Cardiovascular Events Associated with Selective COX-2 Inhibitors.”

Unconvinced by its authorities, Merck went on to claim the security of their merchandise. For instance, on May 22, 2001, Merck released an announcement titled “Merck Confirms Favourable Cardiovascular Safety Profile of Vioxx.” Within this release, Merck refused that Vioxx elevated the chance of cardio complications; it stated that research indicates that there has been “no distinction in the occurrence associated with cardio occurrences” between Vioxx as well as placebo or even amongst Vioxx together with other pain relievers. Which scientific studies evidently demonstrate this has been uncertain. It may be that the research to which they had been making reference had been a Merck backed study released in the fall of 2001 in the journal Circulation. This research features seven experts; five had been full-time workers of Merck, whilst the additional two had been compensated experts to Merck (Konstam et al. 2001, 2280). Like the research done by Mukherjee et al. And Ray et al., it had been an evaluation of patient data that tried to evaluate those medicated with Vioxx against those medicated with placebo or perhaps with non-selective NSAIDs. Its final result had been that there had been absolutely no distinction in cardiovascular events amongst the 3 groups (Biddle, 2007).

Merck’s self-assurance in the security of Vioxx, nevertheless, didn’t last. On September 30, 2004, Merck removed Vioxx from the marketplace for causing specifically the cardio conditions that the organization had previously rejected. The research that ultimately resulted in the actual drawback of Vioxx, the Adenomatous Polyp Prevention on Vioxx (APPROVe), had been the Merck-sponsored medical trial, started at the beginning of 2000, to check whether or not Vioxx might avoid colon polyps, which could turn out to be cancerous (Berenson et al. 2004).

Legal pressures

Early 2006 observed Merck safeguarding itself in the punishment stage of the litigation brought towards it. Upon April 5, 2006, a brand new Jersey jury observed Merck obscured the risks associated with Vioxx in a divided verdict that gave 1 of 2 litigants in the litigation 4.5 million dollars in compensatory loss (Carveth et al., 2006).

This particular trial had been the 6th for Merck. The first finished on August 19, 2005, when a court in Angleton, Texas, granted 253 million dollars to the widow of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old Wal-Mart worker as well as marathon athlete who passed away after consuming Vioxx for 8 months (the $253 million award will probably be considerably lowered since Texas law restricts corrective damage) (Carveth et al., 2006).

Merck’s prospects brightened on the fall of 2005, when a New Jersey court absolved Merck from culpability in the lawsuit of Frederick “Mike” Humeston, 60. Humeston had been a good Idaho postal employee who survived a cardiac arrest he explained came soon after 8 weeks of Vioxx usage. Simply 6 weeks later (December 12, 2005), the mistrial had been announced in Houston right after a federal court failed to arrive at a consensus in the lawsuit of Richard “Dicky” Irvin, 53, who passed away from a cardiac arrest soon after utilizing the drug for less than 30 days. The case had been retried in front of a federal court in New Orleans, as well as on Feb 18, 2006, the court discovered that Merck had not been accountable in Irvin’s death. A trial over the dying of Vioxx consumer Leonel Garza, 71, in state courtroom in Rio Grande City, Texas, that started on January 25, 2006 (Carveth et al., 2006).

The 2 Merck triumphs occurred during cases where the usage of Vioxx had been short-term. The actual most recent New Jersey litigation, the 6th over Merck’s once-famous painkiller, had been observed as being a harbinger of things in the future with regard to most of the 9,650 impending legal cases because it included two males who stated they had taken Vioxx for many years. The company had formerly accepted that individuals taking the actual drug for over 18 months have been at elevated danger for cardiac arrest and cerebral vascular accidents. Each litigant within the lawsuit, John McDarby and also Thomas Cona, had utilized Vioxx for many years. After 2 days of deliberations, the court split, finding that Vioxx triggered McDarby’s cardiac arrest although not Cona’s. Cona had been granted only the expense of his Vioxx medication. Jurors stated the business also had neglected to alert physicians and also the community about dangers connected with the medication (Carveth et al., 2006).

Vioxx (officially referred to as rofecoxib) had been authorized by the Food and drug administration during 1999, soon after clinical trials involving the medication carried out by Vioxx (and also the outcomes documented by Vioxx) disclosed no substantial unfavourable negative effects. By 2004, the drug had been earning $2.5 billion for Merck, its maker. After that, all of a sudden, on Sept 30, 2004, Merck declared that it had been pulling Vioxx from the marketplace (Carveth et al., 2006).


Exactly what went drastically wrong in the Vioxx event? Was the study on Vioxx carried out in an epistemically as well as ethically responsible manner? This can be, obviously, plausible; simply because the scientific community or perhaps corporation explores a theory that happens to be incorrect doesn’t imply the actual study had been epistemically as well as ethically defective. Were there modifications that may happen to be produced that might most likely have avoided a few of the errors from taking place? If that’s the case, exactly what had been these modifications? In the event the study on Vioxx had not been carried out in an ethically and also epistemically responsible style, was this due mainly to the activities of individuals or perhaps to institutional breakdowns? The solutions to these concerns, I argue, have been clear: the actual research on Vioxx had been epistemically insufficient as well as unethical, and also the main trigger of this had been defective institutional arrangements.

Whilst numerous factors might be adduced to the epistemic ineffectiveness of the study, I am going to concentrate upon two. The first has been that, in between 2000 (or perhaps before) and 2004; Merck regularly mischaracterized the actual existing state of information concerning the probable cardiovascular negative effects from Vioxx. The theory that Vioxx didn’t include harmful cardio negative effects had been, till 2004, unclear, and Merck understood that it had been unclear. Regardless of this, the company regularly as well as publicly stated that Vioxx had been risk-free. Second of all, there have been severe concerns regarding whether or not Merck honestly documented information that had been damaging to the financial concerns. Because the drawback involving the medication, info comes to light indicating that Merck researchers didn’t report almost all of the cardio occurrences that they ought to have, therefore bringing in to question at least 2 of the scientific tests which mirrored positively on Vioxx.

Merck’s Mischaracterization related to the Existing State of Understanding Concerning the Probable Cardio Negative effects from Vioxx

Till Vioxx had been removed the actual marketplace, Merck preserved that Vioxx doesn’t bring about cardio issues. However, coming from a really early date, Merck scientists as well as management authorities had been knowledgeable that Vioxx had been at least potentially harmful. Based on paperwork obtained during the actual 2005 Texas civil litigation, Merck researchers had been mindful of the possible cardio dangers as early on as the late nineties. “The likelihood of elevated C.V. occurrences [cardiovascular events] has been of deep concern,” authored Alise Reicin, a senior Merck researcher as well as one of the many authors related to the VIGOR research, inside a 1997 e-mail; “I just cannot wait around to become the 1 to provide these outcomes to senior management” (quoted in Berenson 2005c, online article). In addition, Edward Scolnick, who had been at that time the main scientist in Merck, accepted in a 2000 e-mail that cardio events “tend to be obviously there”; on evaluating Vioxx and its particular negative effects along with other medicines he wrote, “there is constantly a risk” (Matthews and Martinez 2004, online article). Moreover, as talked about in the prior section, Merck authorities called a conference during May 2000 in order to figure out whether or not to engage in research which directly looked into the actual cardio safety of Vioxx. The end result related to the meeting, once more, had been that Merck didn’t engage in this kind of studies — a choice that corresponded towards the wants of Merck marketing and advertising authorities. The reality that they called this type of meeting to begin with, nevertheless, shows that these people had been conscious that the medication had been at least possibly harmful (Biddle, 2007).

Therefore, from about 1997, the theory that Vioxx doesn’t bring about cardio issues had been unsure, and Merck suspected it to be unsure. The only real potential litigation on Vioxx before APPROVe-VIGOR-presented the connection without a sufficient justification, as well as of the retrospective research which proposed to help clarify this relationship, some backed Merck’s theory, whilst other individuals backed its opposite (Konstam et al. 2001; Mukherjee et al. 2001; Ray et al. 2002). Considering the fact that Merck had been conscious of the possible risks of Vioxx, the actual epistemically sensible approach would have been to make sure that its negative effects had been looked into ethically as well as adequately. Sadly, this has not been the approach that had been considered. As an alternative to carrying out the clinical studies that may have revealed the issue, Merck made a decision to stay uninformed, in the mean time backing openly the safety of their medication. Quite simply, Merck regularly mischaracterized the existing state of information concerning Vioxx’s negative effects.

Insufficiencies with Merck’s Portrayal as well as Reporting of Information

Another cause why the study about Vioxx had been epistemically as well as ethically negligent concerns the expanding doubts over whether or not Merck truthfully documented information which had been adverse to the monetary pursuits. Certainly one of these relates to the reporting of cardio occurrences within the VIGOR test. Soon after Vioxx had been removed from the marketplace, the New England Journal of Medicine, that released the outcomes from the VIGOR test, started to examine the information published by the research’s writers. The journal obtained both the paper duplicate related to the research as well as an electronic edition; each of those documented that 17 cardiac arrests took place in the Vioxx group, in comparison to 4 in the naproxen group. Nevertheless, via a test of both the electronic edition related to the research and also the documents which had been provided during the Vioxx lawsuit, it had been found that information highly relevant to cardio dangers had been erased from the last draft of the actual VIGOR research. Amongst these data had been 3 extra cardiac arrest which took place in the Vioxx group. Whilst it had been initially thought that the researchers performing the VIGOR litigation didn’t know about these 3 supplemental cardiac arrest during the time the paper had been published, this proved not to be the case. A July 5, 2000 memorandum which had been acquired by a subpoena at the time of Vioxx lawsuit demonstrated that a minimum of 2 of the study’s experts had been mindful of those cardiac arrest no less than fourteen days prior to distribution (Curfman, Morrissey, and Drazen 2005). Due to the omission of the information, the New England Journal of Medicine released a manifestation of interest concerning the VIGOR research (Curfman, Morrissey, and Drazen 2005).

Along with the concerns around the reporting of information to the New England Journal of Medicine with regard to the VIGOR test, there have been additionally severe concerns concerning the actual information presented to the Annals of Medicine to get a trial referred to as “Advantage.” The Benefit trial had been a 12-week long, randomized, controlled test; the ensuing research had been titled, “Gastrointestinal Tolerability and Effectiveness of Rofecoxib vs. Naproxen in the Treatment of Osteoarthritis” (Lisse et al. 2003). The research had been of minor scientific appeal, because the VIGOR test, which had been considerably lengthier and bigger compared to Advantage test, compared exactly the same 2 medicines. It had been, actually upon the admission of Edward Scolnick, the senior Merck researcher, a “marketing study” (Berenson 2005a). It had been concluded in 2000 however had not been published until the year 2003; a number of other publications declined to write the post due to its insufficient originality (Berenson 2005a). The particular paper had been compiled by Merck; the lead writer of the document, Dr. Jeffrey R. Lisse of the University of Arizona, had been compensated to insert his name on the document.

Queries regarding the information included in the article encircle the total number of individuals within the Vioxx group who encountered cardiac arrest or abrupt cardiac fatality. The article that made an appearance in Annals noted that 5 individuals within the Vioxx group encountered cardiac arrest or abrupt cardiac fatality, when compared with 1 within the naproxen group. This distinction has not been statistically sizeable. This seems, nevertheless, that at least 1, and perhaps 3, more fatalities within the Vioxx group originated from cardiovascular complications. For instance, a 73-year-old lady in the Vioxx group passed away whilst taking part in the test, and when she had been examined with regard to reason of death, the Merck researcher who screened her, Dr. Eliav Barr, established that she passed away from a cardiac arrest (Berenson 2005a).

Based on company email messages, nevertheless, Dr. Alise Reicin, Merck’s vice chairman of scientific research, frequently urged Barr to alter their initial classification; “I might favour unfamiliar cause of fatality to ensure that we do not raise worries” (quoted in Berenson 2005a, online article). The cause of dying had been ultimately changed to “unidentified.” Had it been considered a cardiac arrest, the distinction in CV occurrences amid the Vioxx together with naproxen groups might happen to be statistically substantial.

In this paper, I’ve offered 2 factors for assuming that Merck’s study upon Vioxx had been epistemically and ethically negligent. Merck regularly mischaracterized the existing state of information concerning the possible cardio negative effects associated with Vioxx, and then there happen to be expanding issues around whether or not Merck truthfully documented information which had been damaging to the monetary pursuits.


Boatright. (2012). Ethics in the World of Business. Always Learning, Pearson.

Carveth, R., Ferraris, C. And Backus, N. (2006). Applying the Potter Box to Merck’s Actions Regarding the Painkiller Vioxx. Association for Business Communication Annual Convention. Association for Business Communication.

Biddle, J. (2007). Lessons from the Vioxx Debacle: What the Privatization of Science Can Teach Us About Social Epistemology. Social Epistemology, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 21 — 39.

Bombardier, C., L. Laine, A. Reicin, D. Shapiro, R. Burgos-Vargas, B. Davis, et al. (2000). Comparison of upper gastrointestinal toxicity of Rofecoxib and Naproxen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. New England Journal of Medicine 343: 1520 — 28.

Berenson, A., G. Harris, B. Meier and A. Pollack. (2004). Dangerous Data: Despite warnings, drug giant took long path to Vioxx recall. New York Times, 14 November. Available from

Mukherjee, D.M., S.E. Nissen, E.J. Topol. 2001. Risk of cardiovascular events associated with selective COX-2 inhibitors. Journal of the American Medical Association 286: 954 — 59.

Konstam, M.A., M.R. Weir, A. Reicin, D. Shapiro, R.S. Sperling, E. Barr, and B.J. Gertz. 2001. cardiovascular thrombotic events in controlled, clinical trials of Rofecoxib. Circulation 104: 2280 — 88.

Berenson, A. 2005c. For Merck, Vioxx paper trail won’t go away. New York Times, 21 August. Available from

Matthews, A.N., and B. Martinez. 2004. Warning Signs: Emails suggest Merck knew Vioxx’s dangers at early stage. Wall Street Journal, 1 November. Available from

Ray, W.A., C.M. Stein, K. Hall, P.G. Arbogast, J.R. Daugherty, and M.R. Griffin. 2002. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and risk of serious coronary heart disease: an observational cohort study. The Lancet 359: 118 — 23.

Curfman, G.D., S. Morrissey, and J.M. Drazen. 2005. Expression of concern: Bombardier et al., “Comparison of upper gastrointestinal toxicity of Rofecoxib and Naproxen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis,” N. Eng J. Med 2000; 343: 1520 — 8. New England Journal of Medicine 353: 2813 — 14.

Lisse, J.R., M. Perlman, G. Johansson, J.R. Shoemaker, J. Schechtman, C.S. Skalky, et al. 2003. Gastrointestinal tolerability and effectiveness of Rofecoxib vs. Naproxen in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Annals of Internal Medicine 139: 539 — 46.

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2005. “Conflicts of interest on COX-2 panel.” 25 February. Available from

Berenson, A. 2005a. Evidence in Vioxx suits shows intervention by Merck officials. New York Times, 24 April. Available from

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