Vioxx critic pressed to quit drug safety post

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The Independent Online

The US Food and Drug Administration tried to move a prominent internal critic to a less prominent job just before he was due to present damning evidence at a senate committee hearing in Washington about the organisation's handling of the withdrawal of Vioxx.

The US Food and Drug Administration tried to move a prominent internal critic to a less prominent job just before he was due to present damning evidence at a senate committee hearing in Washington about the organisation's handling of the withdrawal of Vioxx.

David Graham, a scientist who has worked at the FDA for more than 20 years, used the hearing last month to deliver a devastating critique of the way the FDA dealt with Vioxx, the arthritis drug withdrawn by its maker Merck because it increases the likelihood of heart attack.

Before he took the stand, the FDA tried to move Mr Graham from his senior role in the Office of Drug Safety to a position in the Commissioner's department, according to the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based organisation that represents government whistleblowers including Mr Graham.

The attempt has sparked outrage among politicians who feel the dangers of Vioxx were ignored for too long by the company and by those responsible for regulating the drug.

Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, wrote to the FDA's acting commissioner, Lester Crawford, yesterday saying: "Your treatment of Graham has undoubtedly had a chilling effect on the willingness of FDA employees to 'speak up and disagree' when they believe the public's health is at risk."

Tom Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project, said the FDA planned to put Mr Graham in "exile". Mr Graham opposed the move to the Commissioner's office. The FDA said it did not comment on personnel matters.

Mr Graham, whose previous warnings about Vioxx had not been acted on, told senators on the finance committee that Vioxx could have been a factor in about 130,000 deaths.

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