Ex-Merck CEO blasts drug price

May 08, 2008
The Star-Ledger

The voice of Roy Vagelos carries some weight in the pharmaceutical industry.
The former chief executive of Merck, who now serves as chairman of two biotechnology companies, had some choice words about drug pricing during an annual meeting of the International Society of Medical Publication Professionals in Philadelphia.
Not surprisingly, Vagelos, who headed the company's drug discovery efforts before he took the corner office, thinks most medicines are a "terrific bargain." In the United States, the prices of medicines are justified by their value in preventing or controlling disease and managing conditions that have the potential to lead to more serious health problems.
But even Vagelos has a problem with a cancer drug costing $50,000. The medicine in question, which Vagelos never referred to by name, may add as much as four months to the life of a patient battling colorectal cancer. The drug, Avastin, is marketed by Genentech.
"There is a shocking disparity between value and price, and it's not sustainable," Vagelos said, according to a blog posted by CNBC reporter Mike Huckman. "The industry will bring about government price controls which will be devastating."
There is something else that troubles Vagelos about the steep prices of medicines: It doesn't help the image of the pharmaceutical industry.
"In the past, because of their enormous contributions, the industry was held in high regard," Vagelos said by telephone this week. The industry's reputation began slipping as early as 2004, around the time of Merck's withdrawal of the once-popular Vioxx painkiller because of safety concerns.
"The drug industry dropped close to the bottom," Vagelos said, "along with gas companies and the cigarette industry. The high cost of drugs entered into that." - Susan Todd
Manual controversy
More than half of the 28 new writers of the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have ties to the drug industry, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Integrity in Science Watch.
The conflicts of interest ranged from small to extensive. Leading the pack was William Carpenter Jr., director of Maryland Psychiatric Research Center at the University of Maryland, who over the past five years worked as a consultant for 13 drugmakers, including Pfizer, Lilly, Wyeth, Merck, AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb, according to CSPI.
APA President Carolyn Robinowitz said in a statement, "We have made every effort to ensure that DSM-V will be based on the best and latest scientific research, and to eliminate conflicts of interest in its development."
The fifth DSM, which is produced in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health and will be published in 2012, is used by mental-health professionals to classify mental illnesses, CSPI reminds us. - Ed Silverman/Pharmalot.com
Drugmaker's new VP
Merck announced the appointment of Eric Rubin as vice president of oncology clinical research to lead the company's efforts in developing cancer medicines.
Rubin previously served as associate director of clinical sciences and professor of medicine and pharmacology at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, part of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
As associate director at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Rubin oversaw all clinical trial activity.
Merck, which is based in Whitehouse Station, has more than a half-dozen prospective cancer drugs in early stages of development. - Susan Todd
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