“Relax, it’s fine now. Merck has hired new bioethicists” – writes Carl Elliott:
“Yes, the folks who brought you Vioxx have decided to hire some ethics advisors. Merck, of course, became notorious for its deception and intimidation in promoting Vioxx, its arthritis drug, while concealing the fact that it increased the risk of heart disease. Merck tactics included ghostwritten articles, manipulated research studies, phony medical journals and bullying of academic critics. In the period since Vioxx was withdrawn, the company has also come under fire for its promotion of Fosamax, its osteoporosis drug, and Gardasil, its HPV vaccine. But now it has announced its new panel of bioethicists, who will presumably put a stop to all the wrongdoing.”
ADDENDUM 5 hours later:
Elliott has now posted a correction on his blog that reads:
A correction to an earlier posting is in order. The Merck that has just hired a new bioethics panel is not the Merck associated with the Vioxx scandal. The Merck that has hired a new bioethics panel is Merck KGaA, which is associated with the Rebif scandal. Merck and Merck KGaA split before World War I. Apologies for the error.
Meantime, the New York Times reports, “Drug Makers’ Feared Enemy Switches Sides, as Their Lawyer.” Excerpts:
“Michael K. Loucks was arguably the nation’s most influential prosecutor of health care fraud.
He racked up numerous convictions and mega-settlements in nearly a quarter-century, using whistle-blowers and secret grand juries to pressure major pharmaceutical and health companies into ending illegal practices like kickbacks to doctors and misuse of blockbuster drugs.
Once described as a cross between a firebrand preacher and a charismatic litigator, Mr. Loucks burnished a reputation aptly captured in a Fortune magazine headline: “Why Do Drug Companies Fear This Man? Maybe because he’s declared all-out war on cheats in the drug industry.”
But a year and a half ago, Mr. Loucks, a Republican, left the United States attorney’s office in Boston after he was passed over for the top post and President Obama appointed a Democrat. Instead, Mr. Loucks joined Skadden, Arps last July, and has startled former allies by emerging in recent months as zealous a corporate defender as he was a prosecutor, complete with proposals seeking more lenient treatment for the medical companies he once vilified.
Those who have known him are quick to recall that his crowning achievement was a $2.3 billion settlement against Pfizer that capped a four-year secret investigation.
“We’re all disappointed that he’s gone over to the dark side because it seemed that he was a good prosecutor,” said Shelley R. Slade, a whistle-blowers’ lawyer in Washington and a former senior counsel for health care fraud at the Justice Department.
“I looked upon it with sadness,” Patrick Burns, spokesman for the whistle-blower advocacy group Taxpayers Against Fraud, said of Mr. Loucks’ change. “He’s a good and honorable person. He did great work in the Boston office. He’s a good lawyer. It’s just too bad.”