Judge rules Merck lawyers can question NEJM editor

The federal judge overseeing Vioxx litigation ruled this week that Merck would be allowed to depose the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), according to a report in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this week. Lawyers for Merck will question Gregory Curfman over an editorial in the NEJM last month that said the drug firm didn’t fully disclose adverse events in a 2000 study of Vioxx, according to Ted Mayer, the lead outside counsel for Merck in the Vioxx litigation. Merck will be allowed to question Curfman about the peer review process used for medical articles but won’t be entitled to the names of those who reviewed the Vioxx study. Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Vioxx litigation say they intend to use the NEJM editorial in future trials to argue that Merck failed to disclose relevant information. Meanwhile, the Norwegian government vowed this week to speed up a new law that may bring jail terms to those caught falsifying data published in medical journals. “There must be no doubt about the quality of our research,” Norway’s health minister Sylvia Brustad said in published reports. “So we are speeding up our draft law.” The law would bring stricter rules for overseeing research and make those falsifying data liable to criminal charges that could bring jail terms. Under existing rules, violators can in the worst cases be fired and banned from practicing medicine. Norwegian officials said that 44-year-old John Sudbo, a researcher at Oslo’s Radium Hospital, made up patients’ case histories for a study about oral cancer published by British medical journal The Lancet in October. The hospital said an independent commission would probe all his research. The new law would not have a retroactive effect, a Norwegian health official said. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said the report published in October would be retracted if Oslo supplied confirmation that it had been falsified.