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February 23, 2010; The Star-Ledger | Three of the biggest names in U.S. pharmaceuticals are joining together to create an Asian-based nonprofit that aims to develop new medicines to treat the growing incidence of gastric and lung cancers in that part of the world. The new company, to be called the Asian Cancer Research Group, is described as a unique partnership among competing drugmakers—Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly—designed to jump start the research and development process to combat deadly diseases. Much of the group’s effort will focus on the creation of an extensive database that will be available to researchers all over the world, consisting of information collected from analysis of some 2,000 tissue samples from patients worldwide suffering from lung and gastric cancer. Gary Gilliand, Merck Research Laboratories’ Senior Vice President and Franchise Head, Oncology, said the new nonprofit “hopes to empower empower researchers, foster innovation and improve the prognosis and treatment of patients with cancer. Call us cynical but we worry about the pure altruistic motives of the pharmaceuticals. While on the surface and with our limited knowledge, this effort appears laudable, some pharmaceutical companies have been appalling poster children for questionable practices that mask their true intentions. For instance, in a 2009 article in the New York TimesMerck Paid for Medical ‘Journal’ Without Disclosure” we read one example. Author Natasha Singer states that for three years ending in 2005, “the Australian affiliate of Merck paid the Australian office of Elsevier, an academic publisher, to publish eight compilations of scientific articles under the title Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine . . . The Merck marketing compilation was unusual in that it looked like an independent peer-reviewed medical journal. It even called itself a “journal,” without indicating in any of the issues that Merck had paid for it . . . The Merck-sponsored publication is among the evidence in the Australian trial in which the lead plaintiff in a class action suit alleges, among other things, that the company used misleading and deceptive marketing strategies in promoting Vioxx.” Vioxx is an arthritis drug that has been found to pose cardiovascular risks to those taking it—risks that were apparently not disclosed once discovered. The Lancet, a real live medical journal, concluded in 2004 after reviewing the research, that “the unacceptable cardiovascular risks of Vioxx (rofecoxib) were evident as early as 2000 . . .” Lancet editors faulted Merck for delaying the drug’s removal from the market and faulted regulators for lack of oversight. These kinds of shenanigans (call us jaded) leave us cautious.

In any case, we wish them a very “sunny” future.—Bruce Trachtenberg and Ruth McCambridge