Judge Rules Schering Employees' Anonymous Posts on Cafe Pharma Can Be Used as Evidence

Last Updated Jun 4, 2009 11:31 AM EDT

A New Jersey federal judge has ruled that anonymous postings on Cafe Pharma can be used as evidence in a lawsuit over whether Schering-Plough knew the results of its Vytorin study would be negative and hid them for months in an attempt to mislead shareholders.

The ruling gives potential new legal clout to pharma whistleblowers who want to remain anonymous. Cafe Pharma has played other roles in drug company scandals. For instance, in AstraZeneca's "Bucket of Money" fiasco, posts on Cafe Parma predated the breaking of that news and the eventual internal investigation the company conducted.

At Schering, when it finally emerged in January 2008 that Vytorin was no better than a generic statin at slowing artery thickening, the pension funds sued alleging the company has concealed the results of the trial for months.

Key to the plaintiffs's case is whether anyone in Schering knew that the results were bad before they were unblinded in January. As part of their case, the pension funds allege that commenters on Cafe Pharma were talking in detail about the results of the trial months before January 2008. Schering argued that as these posts were anonymous, and as Cafe Pharma is frequently filled with scandalous, misogynist and racist posts, they should be ignored as trivia. The judge found otherwise. He said:

... these statements are neither immaterial, impertinent, nor scandalous ...

The CafePharma postings and confidential witness statements are relevant ... in that they purport to show the timing within which Defendants became aware of the ENHANCE study's results...

What were the posts? You can read a selection in the plaintiffs' motion. The posts began in March 2007.
On March 13, 2007, a CaféPharma post responding to a question about the status of the ENHANCE study stated: "have a buddy at SPRI. He says that the study is a bust. Adding Zetia to already maxed-out statin is useless."
On June 3, 2007, a CaféPharma post captioned "Re: What happened to ENHANCE?" also correctly described the study's yet unreleased results: "Still not released! Heard it crashed and burned!"
A response posted on June 4, 2007 stated: "NO difference in the primary endpoint (change in CIMT from baseline) between simva+zetia and simva+placebo, and there were higher rates of liver problems in the simva+zetia group."
On July 24, 2007 ... I think the time delay is because they are stalling in order to do 2 things: 1) datamine the trial to try to find some secondary or tertiary endpoint analysis that looks positive to some degree to offset the primary endpoint not being met, and 2) develop a counter-strategy to spin the results and/or discredit/disavow the trial (i.e. point out limitations in study design, the endpoint, etc). By itself, this trial won't torpedo the whole thing because there are too many people who think that carotid IMT isn't an ideal endpoint, and they'll come out with some BS about "having to wait until the results of IMPROVE-IT before we have the definitive answer".
BNET has noted before that although Cafe Pharma posts tend to be wildly inaccurate, they do correctly signal the hotbutton issues within companies. So, what is currently going on at Schering's Cafe Pharma bulletin board? This:
Wow, this must be the DUMBEST judge ever - let alone the most retarded federal judge. I'm no employee of SGP but I've sprayed so much shit and rumor on this site that I claim to be correct <1% of the time.
And this:
Do you think the Nasonex Bee sounds like Fred? [ie CEO Fred Hassan]

Yes, I know it's supposedly done by Antonio Banderas. It still sounds like Fred to me. It even looks a little like Fred to me.

Hat tip to Shearlings Got Plowed.