10 years ago today: Scientific misconduct payouts: Boots Nov 1997, Merck Nov 2007On 7 November 1997 it was reported that Knoll Pharmaceutical Co. agreed to pay at least $98 million to settle dozens of lawsuits charging that the company cheated consumers by suppressing publication of a study on one of its drugs. The story related to research performed 7 years ago by Betty Dong's group at the University of California, San Francisco.
Exactly ten years later this week, Merck has reached a $4.85 Billion settlement in 27,000 suits covering about 47,000 plaintiffs, three years after withdrawing Vioxx from the market.
In 1990, Dong, a researcher at UCSF was funded by Boots to carry out research on a widely use thyroid treatment (Synthroid). She discovered the Boots drug was no more effective than three much cheaper competitors. When she tried to publish, Boots threatened to sue. The publication was withdrawn. She received no institutional support. Company executives attempted successfully to publish an inaccurate version of the findings while excluding Dong and threatening legal action. Nine years later the sordid details were exposed in the press and Dong’s paper was published. The company paid around $170 million to "settle" class action lawsuits.
Both these settlements were "good" for the companies concerned and "good" for lawyers. In the case of the Dong affair, it is estimated that the company made a profit of $3billion in inflated costs during the nine year delay. They paid out less than $200 million in compensation. No company executives were prosecuted. The regulators turned a blind eye. In the case of Vioxx, the company has escaped serious sanction for the systematic misleading of patients/doctors and disobeying the rules of science leading to tens of thousands of excess deaths.
April 1996: How a Drug Firm Paid for University Study, Then Undermined It," WSJ, 25 April 1996
July 1996: ""A cautionary tale" Science: 273. pp. 411
Nov 1997: Rennie D, "Thyroid storm" JAMA, Apr 1997; 277: 1238 - 1243
Nov 1997: Kaiser, Jocelyn. "Firm Pays Dearly for Suppressed Study", Science 278 (7 Nov 1997)
Nov 2007: Pharmalot: Law Prof On Vioxx Deal: A Good Gamble For Merck
Merck research excoriated by the Lancet
Vioxx and a quacking duck