NEW YORK (Dow Jones)—Well-known cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol is no longer provost or chief academic officer of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine but remains chairman of the cardiovascular medicine department.

The timing comes days after Topol, a well-known critic of Merck & Co. (MRK), testified in a Texas trial concerning the drug maker’s painkiller Vioxx. Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil denied any connection between the two.

Sheil said the Clinic has made a number of orginizational changes over the past year and that Topol’s dual position of provost and chief academic officer at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has been eliminated. As chairman of the cardiovascular department, Sheil said, Topol will continue to oversee 93 cardiologists, 25 of whom he recruited over the past year.

“He’s done a tremendous job,” said Sheil, who said the Clinic’s board will meet Monday to formally discuss the position’s elimination. Sheil was unaware if Topol helped in the decision-making process or if he was previously aware that his role would be eliminated.

Topol was unavailable for immediate comment.

The Cleveland Clinic is a nationally renowned cardiovascular treatment center and was named the nation’s best heart center by a U.S. News & World Report survey.  News of Topol’s eliminated position was first reported by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.  Topol is a familiar face in the media as the doctor has been an outspoken critic of Merck and specifically Vioxx.

Even this week, Topol was a major, if controversial, presence in the federal trial – without actually appearing in the Houston courtroom. In videotaped testimony, Topol said Vioxx could cause heart damage after as little as four weeks of use and suggested Merck attempted to intimidate him into not publishing research critical of the company.

Merck counsel lambasted Topol in their closing comments Thursday. Merck attorney Bruce Beck characterized Topol as “the kind of guy who doesn’t like to be contradicted and has an ax to grind.”  Beck also faulted Topol for not testifying in person and for “hiding in Cleveland behind subpoena rules.” In a rebuttal, plaintiffs attorney Paul Sizemore said Topol testified because he was subpoened but didn’t come to Houston because he’s not being paid to testify by either side. “He’s independent and isn’t paid by either side,” Sizemore said.



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