Vol. 2, Issue 34, October 5, 2004
Merck Rolls Out "Pla-C-Bo" Replacement for Vioxx
Merck, still reeling in the wake of its voluntary worldwide withdrawal of signature drug Vioxx last week, announced today that a replacement medication will be ready for market by January 2005.
Vioxx is a a so-called COX-2 selective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. A clinical trial revealed a higher risk of cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart attacks, and Merck pulled the product from the market, despite the fact that Vioxx accounted for more than 10% of the company's 2003 sales. Following the announcement, Merck stock plummeted by 25%.
"We were of course dismayed at the trial results which led to the removal of Vioxx from the marketplace," said CEO Raymond Gilmartin. "And we were more than dismayed to see our stock sink like a lead balloon as a result. But I think that this new product will satisfy our shareholders with its safety and efficacy."
The new Merck painkiller, currently known as Pla-C-Bo, has apparently been under development for some time and, to the surprise of many industry observers, has already received FDA approval.
"We were just waiting for the right moment to launch this product," said Gilmartin, "a moment when Merck needed a shot in the arm. That moment seems to have come."
Pla-C-Bo is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides connected by a glycosidic bond. According to Merck, it has been demonstrated to be "just as effective a painkiller" as many current medications on the market, with a markedly lower incidence of side effects.
Some public health advocates were skeptical of the timing behind the new drug's release, and question whether it is as safe as Merck claims.
"Merck isn't the first to tinker with disaccharides," said Marcia Pembroke, of Public Citizen, a Washington-based group founded by 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader. "Previous studies, however, have suggested links with caries, obesity, and mood swings. That's not quite as harmless as Merck's press release would have us think."
Pla-C-Bo will be available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms. The over-the-counter version will be marketed in an unusual cube shape rather than the pills or capsules typically used.
"Merck wants to make an impression," said Gilmartin. "With Pla-C-Bo, we are going to make medicine safe and friendly once again. It's just what America needs."