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Merck Published Bogus Journal

May 5, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

According to an FDA safety alert issued last Friday, there have been 23 reports of serious liver problems ranging from jaundice and elevated liver enzymes moot  described as “several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles.”

Most of the articles in the publication presented Merck products favorably, which makes it seem as if the phony journal was developed for marketing purposes without actually indicating itself as project sponsor, said "I've seen no shortage of creativity emanating from the marketing departments of drug companies," said deputy director of the public health research group at the consumer advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen, Peter Lurie.  Lurie reviewed two issues of the fake journal, which was obtained by and added that, "But even for someone as jaded as me, this is a new wrinkle." TheScientist noted that, other than ads for Merck’s Fosamax and Vioxx, there were minimal other advertisements.

News of the questionable, Merck-created journal started surfacing with a report by The Australian and emerged from information from a civil suit filed against Merck by a patient who suffered a heart attack while on Vioxx, said George Jelinek, an Australian physician and established member of the World Association of Medical Editors, reviewed four issues and testified at the trial, said TheScientist. Jelinek explained that the "average reader," which in this case, would be a physician, could believe the journal to be "genuine" and peer-reviewed, noting that, "Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication," reported TheScientist.

Jelinek noted a good portion of the journal’s articles focused on Merck drugs with favorable verbiage. Adding to the lack of credibility, the so-called review articles contained surprisingly sparse referencing—most review articles are rife with citations and references—with a couple merely being summaries of published work with a notation they were written by "B&J Editorial," which one could infer means “Bone and Joint.”  Testified Jelinek, "It appears that 'B&J' (presumably Bone and Joint) refers to the Journal, and B&J editorial presumably to the publishers or owners as there is no editor of the journal. This is a subtle attribution, and many readers may not realise that the paper was written by the owners or publishers of the journal, presuming that is who would write under the heading of 'editorial,’” quoted TheScientist.

A spokesperson for Elsevier told The Scientist, "I wish there was greater disclosure that it was a sponsored journal."

We have been writing about researchers falsifying studies linked to industry funds.  A former Harvard researcher, Dr. Robert Fogel, admitted falsifying a medical study and, according to an earlier piece, was disciplined by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for faking data in a sleep apnea study funded by federal research grants. Since leaving Harvard, Fogel has been employed by Merck Research Laboratories, where he is now director of clinical research at its respiratory and allergy division in Rahway, N.J.

Legitimate medical journals have been asked to retract drug studies involving Vioxx, Celebrex, Lyrica and other drugs that were conducted by Dr. Scott S. Reuben of Baystate Medical Center; Reuben has strong ties with the pharmaceutical industry, with among others, having received funding from Merck.

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