Mercketing

In an era of information overload, how can a drug marketer get its message across? One new method is creating its very own “journal”, as Merck and Elsevier did in Australia:

From 2002 through 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, a spokesman for Elsevier said.

Elsevier issued a statement last week acknowledging that its Australian office had created paid-for compilations “that were made to look like medical journals and lacked the proper disclosures” of their drug company sponsors and calling such practices “unacceptable.” A company spokesman said Elsevier believed that one of the Merck issues was distributed to 20,000 doctors in Australia while other issues went to about 10,000 doctors.

Thus the current gallows humor in the halls of research: “Is medical science for sale?” “No, its current owners are perfectly happy with it.”*

This latest twist in the sorry saga of modern drug marketing has raised many eyebrows. This deal is problematic on many levels. But as big pharma and big publishing get more sophisticated, keeping track of these interactions will become more difficult. We need more academic work like Ellen Goodman’s on stealth marketing and the new Wagner/McGarity book Bent Science.

Rob Walker coined the term “murketing” to describe “murky marketing”–the increasingly blurred line between paid and unpaid product promotion. I don’t mind murketing when it’s just trying to get me to buy a candy bar or dvd. But in matters of life and death, it seems out of place. The Mercketing at the core of this case has led some commentators to propose a total sequestration of drug research and marketing. As Trudo Lemmens has argued, “an independent drug testing agency . . . would create a healthy separation between those with financial interests in research from those conducting the research.”

Hat Tip: Sergio Sismondo‘s Academic Affairs Article, “Is Medical Science for Sale?”

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