BMJ and Lancet Wedded to Merck CME Partnership

February 14, 2011

14 Feb AHRP – Why did the BMJ fail to disclose its partnership agreement with Merck, major vaccine manufacturer–13 vaccines, including the controversial MMR vaccine?

by Vera Hassner Sharav

Is it just conceivably possible, that the BMJ’s decision to commission and publish Brian Deer’s series of articles attacking Dr. AndrewWakefield’s personal and scientific integrity–and lend its unwavering editorial endorsement–without giving him an opportunity to defend himself–might be influenced by a SIGNIFICANT financial conflict of interest?

The discoverythat a psychiatry textbook penned by two influential academics who gained notoriety, was actually ghostwritten shocked Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the FDA, who called it “a new level of chutzpah [that] takes your breath away.”

How about the discovery that in 2008, the pharmaceutical giant, Merck–using its tradename, MSD signed a partnership agreement with the BMJ Group that effectively gave the company control of 350 interactive continuing medical education courses in over 20 medical therapy areas?

“This unique partnership will change the face of medical education in Europe and beyond, allowing users access to most of BMJ Learning’s library of ‘Continuing Medical Education’ (CME) and ‘Continuing Professional Development’ (CPD) content. The agreement between MSD and BMJ Group comprises about 350 interactive learning courses in over 20 medical therapy areas.”

Why did the BMJ fail to disclose its partnership agreement with Merck?

Why did the BMJ conceal from readers– of the Brian Deer series of articles and the BMJ editorial excoriating Dr. Andrew Wakefield,charging him with deliberate fraud and financial conflict of interest — the fact that the BMJ had a partnership with Merck, a major manufacturer of vaccines — including the MMR vaccine, which is at the center of the Wakefield controversy?

In 2009, Univadis, a Merck trademark, entered into a partnership with The Lancet providing “medical education and an information website.”

“Through a unique global medical literature service called Just Published, clinical specialists registered on Univadis ®will receive free access to the full text of recently published articles from The Lancet.  This new service will be available on www.univadis.com

I don’t think ita stretch to suggest–as for Martin Walker does (below) that:

“Linking Univadis ® /Merck with the BMJ and The Lancet inevitably links them both to Merck’s VIS (Vaccine Information Service) online — ‘a comprehensive source of information, especially designed to provide healthcare professionals with the answers to their questions on vaccines.'”

The fact that BMJ and The Lancet— two of the most prestigious international medical journals would enterinto a medical education partnership with the drug manufacturer whose staff drew up a “doctor hit list” to intimidate doctors who dared to discuss the lethal cardiac risks linked to Vioxx–is in itself a betrayal of trust of the worst sort.

The stated purpose of the Merck / BMJ/ Lancet partnerships that remained hidden from readers’ view, is to “change the face of medical education in Europe and beyond.”

The BMJ editorial accompanying Deer’s articles, did its best to lend authority to the vaccine industry (Merck’s) perspective. In an introductory sound bite the editors declare: Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.”

Finally, the Statement about Competing Interests at the end of the BMJ Editorial claims compliance with conflict of interest disclosure requirements of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. But the BMJ editor in chief and two deputy editors conceal rather than disclose the most relevant financial conflict of interest:

“Competing interests: All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years

UPDATE: 13 March – BMJ admits failure to disclose.  Andrew Van Dam also weighs in.

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