On February 4th 2021, US pharmaceutical company Merck put out a very strange company statement.
It was an unusual statement for a pharmaceutical company because it was rubbishing its own drug, ivermectin, used for decades to treat the parasitic infection, scabies.
The statement went to Reuters, the international news agency, who wrote a story about it, and the story was run in newspapers, online and on TV all over the world.
Ivermectin did not work for COVID-19 and this tried and trusted drug – which has been used by millions worldwide for scabies and is on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential drugs – could be unsafe, we were told.
What Merck failed to disclose with their statement was that they had a potential conflict of interest. They had been developing a drug to treat influenza and they wanted to repurpose it and sell it as an early treatment for COVID-19.
Furthermore, they would benefit if they could obtain emergency use authorisation for that new drug from the US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) to speed up the process of getting their new drug to market – allowing them to skip some of the usual requirements.
But, if so, it would be awkward for Merck that the FDA’s rules for Emergency Use authorisation will only allow a drug to be authorised for such emergency use if “there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives”.