Another Vioxx Win for Merck

The company wins a case in Alabama.
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Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

won its second Vioxx case this week when an Alabama state court jury said Friday that the pain reliever didn't cause a man's March 2001 heart attack.

Although Gary Albright claimed that the drug was responsible for his heart attack, Merck pointed out during the trial that he continued to take Vioxx until September 2004 when the company pulled it from the market.

Merck said Albright, now 58, had high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol and was obese, all risk factors for heart disease.

"Unfortunately, the plaintiff was at increased risk for a heart attack regardless of whether he was taking Vioxx," said Mike Brock of the Alabama firm of Rushton Stakely Johnston & Garrett, Merck's lead attorney in the case that was tried in Birmingham.

On Dec. 13, a federal court jury in New Orleans ruled for Merck in a claim by a Tennessee man that Vioxx had caused his heart attack in 2003.

Merck withdrew Vioxx after a company-sponsored clinical trial showed that Vioxx users had a higher risk of cardiovascular problems than people taking a placebo. The company said the increased risk became statistically significant after 18 months of Vioxx use.

"All of the Vioxx cases are individual claims involving very different circumstances, so we need to consider the facts of each case on an individual basis," said Kenneth Frazier, Merck's executive vice president and general counsel, in remarks similar to those he made after the New Orleans verdict. "Heart attacks are unfortunately common in the population and caused by many different risk factors."

Of 18 cases scheduled for trial, Merck has won nine and lost four. Five cases were dismissed. Merck has appealed or plans to appeal the four losses. One of the Merck victories was set aside by a judge, and the case is expected to be retried.

As of Nov. 30, Merck has been named as defendant in roughly 27,200 personal injury lawsuits and in 265 class-action suits claiming personal injury or economic losses in the U.S.