Merck Wins Vioxx Case

Updated from 2:40 p.m. EDT

A New Jersey state court jury has rejected a woman's claim that Merck's ( MRK) arthritis drug Vioxx caused her heart attack two years ago.

The Thursday victory is Merck's fourth among seven verdicts in the Vioxx litigation. Merck says it will appeal all of the trials that it lost.

The seven-member jury said that Vioxx, which Merck removed from the market in September 2004, didn't play a contributing role in the heart attack of Elaine Doherty, now 68, of Lawrenceville, N.J.

Additionally, the jury said Merck adequately provided information about the drug's risks to Doherty's doctor, although it said the company didn't warn her. The jury said the company didn't commit consumer fraud in the marketing of the drug to physicians or Doherty.

Drawing any conclusions from the verdict is difficult considering there are at least 11,500 U.S. personal injury suits that have been filed against Merck. In addition, there are at least 190 purported class-action suits, as well as an unknown number of lawsuits in other countries.

"Merck is pleased with the jury verdict," said Kenneth Frazier, the general counsel of the Whitehouse Station, N.J., drugmaker. "Today's outcome reinforces our commitment to defend these cases on a case-by-case basis."

Doherty suffered a heart attack in January 2004, and she said she had used Vioxx since mid-2001. Merck attorneys argued that Doherty had several risk factors, including diabetes, obesity and clogged arteries, that caused the heart attack. Merck said she continued to take Vioxx until the company removed it from the market.

"The company acted responsibly, the science was on our side, and the jury agreed," said Jim Fitzpatrick of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, a member of Merck's defense team. "Mrs. Doherty would have suffered a heart attack whether she was taking Vioxx or not."

Merck pulled Vioxx from the market after a clinical trial comparing the drug to a placebo showed that Vioxx patients had increased cardiovascular risk if they took it for more than 18 months. There was no statistically significant difference between the Vioxx group and the placebo group when the drug was taken for less than 18 months, Merck said.

By claiming to have taken the drug for more than two years, Doherty is a plaintiff who could have breached a crucial foundation to Merck's Vioxx defense.

Critics have disputed Merck's reasoning on the 18-month cut-off study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. But the publication recently printed a correction involving some of the methodology in the Merck-sponsored test.

Merck opponents and plaintiffs' attorneys say the correction proves that the 18-month claim is false. Merck says it's sticking with its original claim. "This correction did not change the data" in the study or its results, said Peter Kim, president of Merck Research Laboratories, when the correction was published on June 26.

In late afternoon trading, Merck's stock was off 9 cents to $36.61.

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