Pharmas Market with Mike Huckman

Merck: Both Sides Now

It doesn't always happen, but there is a common to-and-fro, push-and-pull, back-and-forth or whatever you want to call it between reporters and corporate PR folks. I don't particularly like that part of my job, but sometimes it just comes with the territory. I've got my job to do and they've got theirs. I get it.

However, earlier this week a Merck PR guy asked me, "Why are you making this such a big deal? It's a 200-patient study." When I tweeted it, one of my journalism pals on Twitter replied that they'd (I'm shielding their identity and gender) been told even worse on several occasions by various corp comm pitbulls: "Don't embarrass yourself," they reportedly said in a desperate last-ditch attempt to get a story spiked. I think if anyone ever said that to me I'd blow a gasket.

The Merck rep was referring to our coverage plans for the Arbiter 6 clinical trial resultsthat are coming out next Monday morning at 8 a.m. ET at the American Heart Association meeting and, according to analysts, simultaneously in "The New England Journal of Medicine."

I'll be reporting live from the event in Orlando on "Squawk Box" starting at 7:30 a.m. with a curtain-raiser and then with the breaking news at the top of the next hour.

I wonder if "New York Times" reporter Natasha Singer got the same treatment from Merck as I did. She wrote a big takeouton the test that pitted MRK's Zetia/Vytorin against Abbott's Niaspan . In the print edition the story appears on the front page of the business section under the headline, "Cholesterol Study Rivets An Industry."

Cholesterol Drug Battle

That apparently prompted "The Wall Street Journal Health Blog" to do kind of a counterpoint piece titled, "The Next Vytorin Study: Why Is Everybody So Worked Up?" I know Merck has to love that.

One analyst, Leerink Swann's Seamus Fernandez, says much of the reaction to the study will be dictated by the tone of two editorials he says will appear in NEJM alongside the results. But JPMorgan's Chris Schott says in a research note to clients this week, "The key swing factor when considering the potential impact to the (Vytorin/Zetia) cholesterol franchise will be the degree of media focus around the study."

We reporters get it from all sides.

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