February 14

BMJ & the Lancet Wedded to Merck CME Partnership

MSD [Merck Sharp & Dohme Ltd] Signs Partnership With BMJ Group 

Is it just conceivably possible, that the BMJ’s decision to commission and publish Brian Deer’s series of articles attacking Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s personal and scientific integrity–and lend its unwavering editorial endorsement–without giving him an opportunity to defend himself–might be influenced by a SIGNIFICANT financial conflict of interest?

The discovery that a psychiatry textbook penned by two influential academics who gained notoriety, was actually ghostwritten shocked Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the FDA, who called it “a new level of chutzpah [that] takes your breath away.”

How about the discovery that in 2008, the pharmaceutical giant, Merck–using its trade name, MSD signed a partnership agreement  with the BMJ Group that effectively gave the company control of 350 interactive continuing medical education courses in over 20 medical therapy areas?

“This unique partnership will change the face of medical education in Europe and beyond, allowing users access to most of BMJ Learning’s library of ‘Continuing Medical Education’ (CME) and ‘Continuing Professional Development’ (CPD) content. The agreement between MSD and BMJ Group comprises about 350 interactive learning courses in over 20 medical therapy areas.”

“This partnership with univadis(R) will play a crucial role in opening the gateway for physicians into BMJ Learning. “BMJ Learning is already used by 82,000 doctors in the UK and this partnership will enable doctors in many different countries to benefit from BMJ Group’s expertise in medical education,” says Michael Chamberlain, Chairman of BMJ Group.

MSD Partnership With BMJ Group-Univadis 2008

Why did the BMJ fail to disclose its partnership agreement with Merck?
Why did the BMJ conceal from readers– of the Brian Deer series of articles and the BMJ editorial excoriating Dr. Andrew Wakefield, charging him with deliberate fraud and financial conflict of interest– the fact that the BMJ had a partnership with Merck and GSK,  the two manufacturers of the MMR vaccine, which is at the center of the Wakefield controversy? 

In 2008, Univadis, a Merck trademark, entered into a partnership with The Lancet providing “medical education and an information website.”

 “Through a unique global medical literature service called Just Published, clinical specialists registered on Univadis ®will receive free access to the full text of recently published articles from The Lancet.  This new service will be available on www.univadis.com

I don’t think it a stretch to suggest–as for Martin Walker does (below) that:

“Linking Univadis ® /Merck with the BMJ and The Lancet inevitably links them both to Merck’s VIS (Vaccine Information Service) online — ‘a comprehensive source of information, especially designed to provide healthcare professionals with the answers to their questions on vaccines.'”

The fact that BMJ and The Lancet— two of the most prestigious international medical journals would enter into a medical education partnership with the drug manufacturer whose staff drew up a “doctor hit list” to intimidate doctors who dared to discuss the lethal cardiac risks linked to Vioxx–is in itself a betrayal of trust of the worst sort. The stated purpose of the Merck / BMJ/ Lancet partnerships that remained hidden from readers’ view, is to “change the face of medical education in Europe and beyond.” 

The BMJ editorial accompanying Deer’s articles, did its best to lend authority to the vaccine industry (Merck’s) perspective. In an introductory sound bite the editors declare: “Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.”

Finally, the  Statement about Competing Interests at the end of the BMJ Editorial claims compliance with conflict of interest disclosure requirements of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. But the BMJ editor in chief and two deputy editors conceal rather than disclose the most relevant financial conflict of interest:

“Competing interests: All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form  and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years.

  Posted by Vera Hassner Sharav 

Merck Vaccines for Children: :

AFLURIA® (Influenza Virus Vaccine)
[Haemophilus b Conjugate (Meningococcal Protein Conjugate) and Hepatitis B (Recombinant) Vaccine]
GARDASIL® [Human Papillomavirus Quadrivalent (Types 6, 11, 16, and 18) Vaccine, Recombinant]
M-M-R®II (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Virus Vaccine Live)
PedvaxHIB® [Haemophilus b Conjugate Vaccine (Meningococcal Protein Conjugate)]
PNEUMOVAX®23 (Pneumococcal Vaccine Polyvalent)
ProQuad® (Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella Virus Vaccine Live)
RECOMBIVAX HB® [Hepatitis B Vaccine (Recombinant)]
RotaTeq® (Rotavirus Vaccine, Live, Oral, Pentavalent)
Tetanus and Diphtheria Toxoids Adsorbed
VAQTA® (Hepatitis A Vaccine, Inactivated)
VARIVAX® (Varicella Virus Vaccine Live)
ZOSTAVAX® (Zoster Vaccine Live)

Merck’s Medical Media Empire
Martin J Walker

Today the world is so big and the miasma of information about it so opaque that even experts have to be constantly in touch 24/7, as they say. Take your eye of the ball for a second and you might regret it for a life-time. Some information, however, slips through the fog almost unnoticed; who, for instance, remembers reading ‘MSD signs partnership with BMJ group’ in June 2008, or two years later, ‘Univadis and the Lancet announce new partnership’. Anyway only a small number of people would have read beyond the headline, bothering to work out who MSD was and what was Univadis.

Anyone who did get further than the headline might have been shocked, for MSD is of course Merck Sharp and Dohme, the massive drug company known as Merck. And Univadis®? Yes, you’ve guessed they’re also an aspect of Merck. Merck is one of the manufacturers of MMR II and was one of the defendants in the claim brought by UK parents against three vaccine manufacturers. In fact Merck, having taken over Aventis Pasteur, which company had previously partnered them in marketing MMR II in the UK, now constitutes two of the defendant companies in that presently defunct court case.

What does Univadis®, that part of MSD involved in both partnerships do? Like many multinationals the ever developing Merck is gradually building an empire that will not have to rely upon PR and information agencies outside it’s own corporation. Univadis® (Univadis® is a registered trademark of Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, USA) is the company within a company that sets out to educate doctors globally in the Merck scriptures. Merck describes the Univadis® web site as ‘a non promotional medical website of MSD pharmaceuticals, providing information  and interests to UK doctors.’ It has developed educational programmes in both the developing and developed world that in partnership with journals and other media organisation can give the world the Merck word. Not a word you notice about influencing the content of the BMJ or the Lancet or any kind of reciprocal arrangement that will see BMJ or Lancet articles twice round the world in milliseconds.

When Brian Deer recently wrote his three slanderous articles about Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the common opinion was that the BMJ was in hoc to Big Pharma — so what did one expect. It was hard to fault this opinion even without any exact detail, after all it had been thought for some time that Deer was in league with either GSK or MSD – especially during his time attending the the US cases – and with the Lancet policy having been steered for a period by a Managing Director of Elsevier who was also a non-executive board member of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK); and with Dr Richard Horton, the Lancet’s editor, an enthusiastic Fellow of the drug front Academy of Medical Sciences, funded in part by MSD and GSK, and BMJ conferences supported by both GSK and MSD, it had become an oxymoron to talk of ‘independent’ medical journals.

Linking Univadis®/Merck with the BMJ and the Lancet inevitably links them both to Merck’s VIS (Vaccine Information Service) online — ‘a comprehensive source of information, especially designed to provide healthcare professionals with the answers to their questions on vaccines’ — and Media Medics a group of slatternly men and women, who long ago sold their souls for the bright lights.

Media Medics has been appointed to provide new content for the Univadis® site, and each month we will be supplying four articles on topical subjects, together with regular input to the related discussion forums. The articles are opinionated (as well as factually accurate!) and comment is encouraged. We are now looking for potential contributors …

In this plethora of manipulated global information and somewhere in the tangle of vested interests we find a rough ball park vision of the involvement of Deer with the vaccine industry, it’s still not ‘smoking-gun’ clear but it begins to form a focusing picture of Deer’s involvement in the BMJ assaults on Dr Wakefield. When the BMJ signed up with univadis® Merck’s global Medical Director, Dr Ottfried Zierenberg said: “Our collaboration with BMJ Group intends to ultimately increase the health outcome for patients, and strengthen the position of univadis® as a trusted, professional and comprehensive source (of articles and information) for the medical community.”

It was still a matter of controversy only a few years ago when medical journals or their staff were found to be supported, linked or conjoined with pharmaceutical companies, today the battles are over, and the dead truth lies scattered on various battlefields, the bodies looted of their ethics. In the UK, both the Lancet and the BMJ are evidently deeply compromised. But is anyone going to take any notice? Probably not, ethics has become a foreign language in the UK. MSD have had plenty of experience in crawling out from under responsibility, especially after their Rotavirus was heavily criticised for creating a potentially fatal bowel condition. To polish up their image following that farrago, the company employed the infamous crisis PR company APCO Worldwide based in Hong Kong, to design and execute a communication strategy that would solve the problem.

APCO, working closely with the client, took what was a complex situation involving unfamiliar medical terms and simplified the information into defined key messages. APCO then devised and executed a proactive media campaign to communicate these messages throughout Hong Kong. Central to the campaign was a media briefing, organized by APCO, which was attended by almost all print, broadcast and online media, where two leading pediatricians presented the facts, contextualized the announcements and answered questions from the press.

The briefing was used to highlight a separate report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to the FDA’s announcement, which concluded that the vaccine did not increase the chance of intussusception in babies. The APCO campaign, they say, solved the situation entirely, proving to the world that no one was damaged by MSDs Rotavirus, in fact, it appeared it was another companies product that was responsible!

APCO’s media campaign generated widespread, positive coverage of MSD’s key messages. As a result, public confidence in the vaccine was swiftly restored. Despite the sterling work of APCO on the Rotavirus case, it seems that Merck feel the need to build a proactive media empire, with embedded medical journals, that can dissapear the tragedy of damaged children and snow-out their legal responsibilities.

Mr. Walker’s website, , http://www.slingshotpublications.com provides extensive analysis about the vituperous Wakefield-Deer controversy.

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