Merck has long stood out among drug companies for its sterling scientific reputation. Now the maker of Vioxx may suffer long-term consequences for a case of scientific misconduct that occurred five years ago.
Yesterday, editors at The New England Journal of Medicine published online an “Expression of Concern,” which says that data were deleted from the manuscript of the biggest study of Vioxx before it reached the Journal.
In an interview, Gary Curfman, an executive editor at the Journal, said that a computer disk had shown that the data, including three heart attacks suffered by patients taking Vioxx, had been deleted by Merck. Two Merck scientists were co-authors of the paper, including Alise Reicin, an executive who helped manage Vioxx’s development and has been called as a Merck witness in court.
Garret FitzGerald, a pharmacologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said he was waiting to hear Merck’s side of the story. But if the accusations are true, he called deliberately omitting data from the manuscript “extraordinarily serious.” He added, “If that’s what they actually did, it’s extraordinarily stupid.”