Merck, a pharmaceutical company, launched a study in 1999 that aimed at proving that Vioxx was superior among all other pain killers and would offer a solution to arthritis. The company argued that it had fewer gastrointestinal complications, unlike other drugs. The painkiller was used by over 20 million patients since it was introduced in the markets of America before there were adequate concerns about its risks. Merck voluntarily took off the drug from the market after a revealing study that Vioxx multiplied the risks of heart attack and strokes among its patients who used it for more than 18 months. However, Merck made it known to the public that they originally had no idea of the lethal effects of their drug and that's why they had introduced the study. This led to over three hundred lawsuits being filled against Merck in the claim that they were aware of the effects and had not acted early enough.
The essay aims at analyzing various aspects of the case providing an insight on the study provided by Merck and giving personal thoughts of the moral and social considerations. There are various important aspects of the case that should be reviewed before the ultimate conclusion on the ethic and social gradation of Merck's action. The food and drug administration had approved that Vioxx could be used for arthritis and other forms of pain in both adults and children in various cases. The drug was later approved for rheumatoid arthritis pain in adults, and then with more research from the Merck Company, it was approved applicable for children too. Despite the FDA approvals, concerns on the safety of the drug began to arise which could be termed as immediately after FDA's approval in 2000.
Research conducted by the journal of medicine showed that the drug had a higher risk of 0.4 percent to the original 0.1 percent risk that the patients of the drug got the stroke and heart attack, this was in comparison with the patients who administered alternative painkillers including naproxen (Derrick). These concerns persisted in 2002 when a new Vioxx label was associated with stroke risks and heart attack, and they led to a case being presented at the first time to a medical conference. With all these allegations, the pharmaceutical company was working hard in their laboratories to determine if Vioxx could prevent the precancerous recurrence growths in the large intestines.
Another important aspect of the case is that the chief research officer of the company informed the top management that it was on the best interest of the people that the company halts any supply and manufacture of the drug. The company performed various outside experts; some advised him to continue the manufacturing of the drug and add a warning label while others supported the chief research officer on its halt. However, the bond of directors ultimately agreed on withdrawing the drug from the market. The company withdrew voluntarily the drug from the market, and it mentioned that it was for the best interest of the users of the drug and that the clinical trial was to determine the safety profile of the drug and since it had learned of the risks that's why it came to its decision. The company vowed to the public that it would do all it could to preserve and maintain the safety of the patients who are its customers.
The bold action of withdrawal was rewarded with high remarks from the public relation experts. The public relation experts congratulated the company as it did not wait for the Food and drug administration to order them into the withdrawal. They also claimed that the announcement of the global recall was outright and served the best interest of the public and they also acknowledged the frankness of the company on its handing over of its board of director's phone numbers to the journalists.
The central problem is that case study is whether Merck acted or conducted itself in an ethically and socially responsible manner. Vioxx is the central problem that I wish to examine here. Most individuals argue that the major problem lies within the pharmaceutical company, while that may be the true different individual will also argue that the problem was with the food and drug administration. The pharmaceutical company which in this case was research driven dedicating to putting the patients and its customers first despite it being among the largest pharmaceutical company in the globe.
Merck is a giant company that produces a variety of health products all over the globe and Vioxx happens to be the best selling of them all after its approval in 1999. The company had earned over $5.24 billion as net revenue with $2.1 billion being from the sell of the drug and this was a positive fortune for the company. Despite all these personal gains to the company, it did not focus on the gains including the financial gains, but it focused on the impact the drug caused on patients and their general safety upholding the ethical responsibilities of both the shareholders and the consumers.
Personally, am not shocked by the case as I could not expect less or more of what Merck did. I believe that the company only tried to help patients with their medical conditions and relieve them from pain through their drug, Vioxx. Secondly, the company had followed the right channel of drug approval from the Food and Drug approval company. Therefore if there is any figure to be pointed, it should be to the Food and Drug Approval agency for not conducting proper investigations of the drug before approval. Merck is just in all aspects as they are also seen to conduct their private investigations and once they noted a difference from what they had earlier hoped for, they immediately withdrew the drug from the market. It would have also chosen to add a warning, but it did not (Arnold 583).
Fortunately, the company has long benefited from excellent track records of performance and integrity, and they have sworn to continue their traits. Another reason that the company should not be blamed for their drug is that it was a study and if they are condemned it will be an outright way to discourage inventing and the manufacture of other drugs that would help solve various health complications all over the globe. Generally, Merck marks beautiful performances, and from this vantage point, the company did an exemplary on how it handled the Vioxx recall.
Despite the exemplary action of the management on the recall of the drug, it did not listen to the reaction of the public in the market (Arnold 580). The public reacted to the drug immediately after approval in 2000. However, the company remained silent for five years in the name of conducting their personal investigations while they still supplied drugs to the public. The company should have halted their supply immediately after receiving the response from the public and conduct their investigations without endangering the public at Large (Michael 983).
After the announcement of the withdrawal, the company faced a great loss of $28 billion which translated to 27% of their overall market capitalization. Therefore the company needs to do a lot of work to regain their profits and even the trust. Faced with a crisis that threatened the health of millions of consumers, the company needs to combine their factual communication with compassion. It needs to directly express their empathy to the medical community and the concern of the patients and offer reassuring facts on the news coverage (Michael 983). This will help the company stand firm once again and build trust with various parties.
Utilitarianism is a philosophy that presumes that the moral worth of a doing is mainly determined by the impact and contribution it has to the overall utility to maximize the pleasure or the happiness as collected among all people. Therefore it is the individual's total utility that is considered or the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. In an application of utilitarianism, it was purely not ethical for FDA and partially for the company to keep the drug in the market even after receiving controversial reactions from the public immediately after officiating or other approving the drug to be used in the market (Derrick). The public provided sufficient evidence to the Food and Drug Approval agency that the drug caused medical complications but rather than writing to the Merck Company, they waited and took no action.
The utilitarianism philosophy would also argue that it was ethical for the Merck Company to present and keep the drug in the market as it helped health arthritis and other forms of pains (Gallicano, 193).We would justify this through the fact that, the medication was helpful in healing many people and that it provided the maximum utility of happiness to them. Then why not ignore the minor percentage that was affected by strokes and heart attacks?
We can also argue that it was not ethical for Merck to present the drug in the market without proper investigations. The fact that the company had an opportunity to do adverse and intensive research on the drug they present and failed to do so until very late, violate the utilitarian philosophy in that it did not provide maximum happiness in the long run but it led to discourse and caused the uproar from the public (Gallicano, 193). They did not uphold the utilitarian ethics when presented with ample data that demonstrated possible harm
Arnold, Derrick. Ethical theory and business. T. L. Beauchamp, & N. E. Bowie (Eds.). Pearson, (2014),
Bowen, Gallicano. "A Philosophy of Reflective Ethical Symmetry". Public Relations and Communication Management: Current Trends and Emerging Topics, (2013), p. 193.
Kessel, Michael. "Restoring the pharmaceutical industry's reputation". Nature biotechnology, 2014, 32(10), p. 983.
Gagnon, Arnold. "Corruption of pharmaceutical markets: addressing the misalignment of financial incentives and public health". The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 2013 41(3), 571-580.
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