April 14, 2007

Merck: We'll Continue to Profit from Killing Customers

Yesterday's New York Times carried an article by reporter Gardiner Harris that tells me more than I want to know about the ethics of Merck, the company that sells Januvia.


If you may recall, Merck continued to sell Vioxx long after the company had internal information suggesting that the drug caused heart attacks and stroke. Well, this past week they were back looking for FDA approval of another drug which is closely related to Vioxx.

Let me quote Mr. Harris's article:

"A panel of federal drug advisers voted 20 to 1 Thursday to reject an application by Merck to sell its pain pill Arcoxia because of concerns that the drug could cause as many as 30,000 heart attacks annually if widely used."

Further on Harris reports:

"The studies showed that Arcoxia caused nearly three times as many heart attacks, strokes and deaths as naproxen, a popular pain pill sold as Aleve, but was no more effective in curing pain. Patients taking Arcoxia suffered worrisome increases in blood pressure."

"Merck sells Arcoxia in 63 countries"


"In early studies, Merck compared Arcoxia with naproxen and found that Arcoxia was far more dangerous to the heart. So the company switched to comparing it with diclofenac, a pain medicine that is popular outside the United States and is widely believed to be more dangerous to the heart than naproxen. The company claimed that its trials showed that Arcoxia was no more dangerous than diclofenac."

Here's the punchline:

"A Merck spokeswoman, Kyra Lindemann, said the company was 'disappointed in today’s outcome.'

“'We continue to believe that Arcoxia has the potential to become a valuable treatment option,' Ms. Lindemann said, adding that Merck would continue to sell the drug outside the United States.

Why does this matter for people with diabetes?

Because every doctor or researcher I have contacted in the past two weeks asking about whether the DPP-4 inhibition caused by Merck's Januvia could promote the change of melanocytes into melanoma--a cancer known to become malignant in response to DPP-4 inhibition--has told me that ONLY MERCK would have the studies to answer that question and that I should contact them.

Yeah. Right.

Yesterday's news also carried reports on the business page that Merck's stock price leapt on news of high profits from selling Januvia, which is right now their big new moneymaker.

Given the role that Januvia plays in their business plan, and this evidence that the company is willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of people to earn its profits, what hope do you think there is of getting a straight answer about Januvia's cancer risk.

If the company ever researched Januvia's effects on other DPP-4 related functions, like preventing cancer--which we can guess they have, since they've published a study showing it might be helpful for the inflammation of arthritis--any result that suggested any danger to the people taking Januvia has gone to the same place as Karl Rove's incriminating emails.

Scary, eh?


new retiree whose mom had diabetes said...

This is scary stuff, indeed, and sounds very similar to what is happening with the anti-anemia drugs. The two big kidney dialysis companies, Fresenius and DaVita, and the drug company Amgen are putting patients at risk in order to boost their profits.

The New York Times had a story on May 9 about how Amgem is paying "hundreds of millions of dollars to doctors a year" to prescribe Epogen. The story said this gives physicians the incentive to prescribe the drug at a level that might increase patients' risk of getting a heart attack or stroke.

And a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that patients at for-profit kidney dialysis centers are given bigger doses of Epogen than patients at not-for-profit clinics because there is a financial incentive built into the federal Medicare reimbursement system.

It's really scary and outrageous that the U.S. health care system is supposed to be the best on earth--yet allows, and even encourages, profiteering over patient care.

I am extremely concerned about this because, although I have been blessed so far with good health, I am getting older and am having to buy my own health insurance. My mother had diabetes, and I know that diabetes is one of the big factors leading to kidney failure. God knows I would hate to find myself strapped to a kidney dialysis machine, receiving unhealthy doses of a drug just so that a few companies can make a bigger profit.