CLEVELAND — Dr. Eric Topol, the world-renowned cardiologist who challenged the safety of the pain reliever Vioxx, is leaving The Cleveland Clinic to become a genetics professor.
Topol, 51, led the clinic’s cardiology program for 14 years and used the clinic’s prestige to raise awareness of heart disease. He was one of the first scientists to raise doubts about the safety of Vioxx, and was a key witness in lawsuits arguing that Merck & Co. concealed the dangers.
Topol, who has been a Case Western Reserve University medical professor, said in a joint statement with the clinic Friday that it is time to move on.
“I am thrilled for the immediate future to be able to concentrate on the research that I am passionate about — the genetics of heart attack,” he said.
Topol attacked Vioxx while working as a consultant for a hedge fund that was betting against the drug’s manufacturer. He also has criticized the $500-per-dose cost of the popular heart medication Natrecor and charged that it is being given unnecessarily to some patients. He has also complained that advertisements by drug companies glamorize medicines.
In December, Topol lost two high-profile positions at the clinic when the medical school he helped establish there eliminated his dual position of provost and chief academic officer.
“We are grateful for Eric’s years of service, his exceptional academic integrity, and for his dedication to patients. He has made tremendous contributions to patient safety and to the field of cardiovascular medicine,” clinic chief executive Toby Cosgrove said in the statement.
Topol’s departure comes as the clinic confronts questions about ethical conflicts between patient needs and profits among researchers such as Topol and Cosgrove.
In December, a Wall Street Journal article detailed Cosgrove’s relationship with AtriCure, a medical device company, and the clinic’s role in a venture capital firm that invested in it. Cosgrove sat on AtriCure’s board and served as a general partner.
The clinic announced Thursday it was tightening its ethics policies after a preliminary review found that poor disclosure practices by Cosgrove reflected problems throughout the clinic. Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said the clinic must correct the “imbalance between innovation and transparency.”
For his part, Topol has said that he was unaware when he was working as a paid consultant to the hedge fund that was short-selling.
Merck pulled Vioxx from the market after its own study showed that the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
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