December 10, 2005

Doc Testifies Against Merck, Gets Fired

The doctor that figured out that something was wrong with Vioxx, tried (to no avail) to get Merck to run clinical trials on it in 2001, and testified to that effect during the trial, has been fired from his job as provost at the Cleveland Clinic 2 days after testifying. This despite the fact that he was a founding member of the clinic and has been responsible for bringing in a 40 million dollar increase in funds to the clinic.

"On Monday, the clinic's board will review Topol's removal from the leadership posts by chief executive officer Delos Cosgrove"

I am going to give Dr. Cosgrove a call and encourage him to give this "restructuring" decision a hard second look.

Here is his contact information in case any one wants to do the same.

Cosgrove, Delos, M.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Board of Governors, CCF
Phone: (216) 444-2300

Here is the link to the Cleveland Clinic's contact page:

This morning I sent them this email:
Dear Sirs,

I read the Bloomberg story today on Dr. Topol's firing and I was extremely disturbed by it. From where I sit, it seems like he may being punished for being an honest doctor and protecting patients because he spoke out against a powerful pharmaceutical company. I truly hope that this is not the case.

I understand this decision will be reviewed on Monday by Dr. Cosgrove. I hope that he takes a very hard second look at this decision as it is potentially a huge miscarriage of justice.

I have tried to reach Dr. Cosgrove this morning to share my thoughts over the phone, but there was no answer. I am assuming that the office is not staffed as it is a Saturday.

I will try to reach him again Monday morning.

Thank You,
Ginger Taylor, M.S.

From Teresa Binstock:

Another honest doc put out to pasture. Several headlines precede the firing article.

* * * *

Lawyers Evaluate Censure of Merck.
Some legal experts said Merck & Co.'s defense against thousands of similar lawsuits would be hurt by an accusation that company scientists had downplayed the pain reliever's heart attack risk.
Los Angeles Times, California. 10 December 2005. [Registration Required]

* * * *

Vioxx Plaintiffs Seek Mistrial After Allegation on Merck Study.
Merck & Co. felt the first fallout from a top medical journal's allegation that key data were excised, as plaintiffs in a federal liability trial over the drug seized on the disclosure to call for a mistrial.
Wall Street Journal. 10 December 2005. [Subscription Required]

* * * *

Editor says he should've challenged Vioxx study.
The executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine said yesterday that he should have been more aggressive in challenging research on the blockbuster pain pill Vioxx that appeared in the publication five years ago.
Boston Globe, Massachusetts. 10 December 2005.

* * * *

Vioxx witness fired from top posts
The medical school leader criticized Merck recently at a federal trial. He has often warned of the pain reliever.

By David Voreacos and Jef Feeley
Dec. 10, 2005

A cardiologist who testified at a federal trial in Houston that Merck & Co. Inc.'s Vioxx pain reliever posed an "extraordinary risk" of causing heart attacks has been removed from two leadership positions at the Cleveland Clinic medical school.

Eric Topol, 51, criticized Merck in testimony Dec. 3 at the trial of a lawsuit by the widow of Richard "Dicky" Irvin, who blames her husband's fatal heart attack on Vioxx. Two days later, Topol was removed as provost and chief academic officer at the medical school. He remains chairman of the clinic's cardiovascular medicine department.

Federal jurors began deliberating Thursday on whether Merck, which has significant operations in the Philadelphia area, failed to warn of Vioxx's risks before pulling it off the market last year. The jury is to return today to resume deliberations.

In August, a Texas state jury ordered Merck to pay $253 million to the widow of a Vioxx user, an amount that will be reduced to $26 million under state law. Last month, a New Jersey jury ruled that Merck was not liable for the heart attack of an Idaho postal worker.

Topol's removal from the academic posts had "absolutely" nothing to do with his testimony or his views on Vioxx, said Eileen Sheil, a spokeswoman for the Ohio hospital system. "We've had a series of changes in the administration and the way things are structured. Dr. Topol is a key physician here at the clinic, and he's done a tremendous amount that has contributed to the success of the clinic."

Topol did not immediately return a phone call or e-mail seeking comment. He has been a professor at the Cleveland Clinic since 1991, and assumed the medical school posts in 2001.

Topol has been a central figure in the scientific debate over Vioxx - which generated $2.5 billion in annual sales before Merck withdrew it last year - saying it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes in long-term users.

Topol wrote a paper in 2001 highlighting the risks of Vioxx, concluding that patients experienced sharply higher rates of heart problems four to six weeks after starting the drug. Merck says Vioxx poses a risk only after 18 months of daily use.

Topol testified that he and his colleagues urged Merck to conduct clinical trials on the risks and that the company refused.

Topol told jurors in the Irvin case that Merck researchers visited him before he published his paper and said "we had gotten it wrong, and we'd be embarrassed if we published it."

In a videotaped deposition, he said former Merck chief executive officer Raymond Gilmartin called Malachi Mixon, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic's board, in October 2004 to question why Topol had targeted Vioxx.

As Topol recalled it, Gilmartin said: "What has Merck ever done to the Cleveland Clinic to warrant this?" Topol testified that the approach by Gilmartin "appalled" him.

In 2002, Topol helped found the medical school, which accepted its first students in 2004, Sheil said. On Monday, the clinic's board will review Topol's removal from the leadership posts by chief executive officer Delos Cosgrove, Sheil said.

Topol created the clinic's division of clinical research, and oversaw an increase in National Institutes of Health grants from $50 million in 2001 to $90 million in 2005, Sheil said.

Shares of Merck fell 55 cents to $29.13 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

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