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Milanda Rout said:AN international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be "neutralised" or discredited because they criticised the anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced.
Staff at US company Merck &Co emailed each other about the list of doctors - mainly researchers and academics - who had been negative about the drug Vioxx or Merck and a recommended course of action.
The email, which came out in the Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday as part of a class action against the drug company, included the words "neutralise", "neutralised" or "discredit" against some of the doctors' names.
It is also alleged the company used intimidation tactics against critical researchers, including dropping hints it would stop funding to institutions and claims it interfered with academic appointments.
"We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live," a Merck employee wrote, according to an email excerpt read to the court by Julian Burnside QC, acting for the plaintiff.
The Federal Court was told yesterday that Merck wanted to gain the backing of researchers and doctors - or "opinion leaders" - in the fields of arthritis to help promote the drug to medical professionals when it was launched in 1999.
Mr Burnside said internal emails in April 1999 from Merck staff showed the company was not happy with what some researchers and doctors were saying about the drug.
"It gives you the dark side of the use of key opinion leaders and thought leaders ... if (they) say things you don't like to hear, you have to neutralise them," he said. "It does suggest a certain culture within the organisation about how to deal with your opponents and those who disagree with you."
The court was told that James Fries, professor of medicine at Stanford University, wrote to the then Merck head Ray Gilmartin in October 2000 to complain about the treatment of some of his researchers who had criticised the drug.
"Even worse were allegations of Merck damage control by intimidation," he wrote, according to Mr Burnside.
"This has happened to at least eight (clinical) investigators ... I suppose I was mildly threatened myself but I never have spoken or written on these issues."
Mr Burnside told the court Dr Fries went on to describe instances of intimidation, including one colleague who thought his academic appointment had been jeopardised and another who received phone calls alleging "anti-Merck" bias.
Dr Fries said in the letter that Merck had been systematically playing down the side effects of Vioxx and said the company's behaviour "seriously impinges on academic freedom". ...
Vioxx maker Merck and Co drew up doctor hit list