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Merck disappointed after jury undecided in Vioxx case

Published on 13/12/05 at 01:07pm

Merck said it was disappointed after a jury failed to reach a unanimous decision in the first federal court case over its painkilling drug Vioxx.

The case in Texas ended in a mistrial after the nine-member jury was unable to agree whether the withdrawn painkiller had caused a man's fatal heart attack.

The hung jury outcome is just the latest setback to hit the embattled company, which is facing the prospect of over 7,000 lawsuits and a potential payout of billions in damages.

But Merck, buoyed by victory in its previous Vioxx case, is confident that it will win the case in the event of a retrial.

The lawsuit had been brought by the widow of Richard Irvin, a 53-year-old who died of a heart attack in 2001 after taking Vioxx for a month.

Merck presented evidence showing there was no scientific evidence that short-term use of Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack.

"We believe that Mr Irwin would have suffered a heart attack when he did, whether he was taking Vioxx or not," said Philip Beck, Merck's lead trial lawyer in the case.

Plaintiffs, however, accused Merck of misrepresenting Vioxx's risk, causing harm to patients.

The outcome has cast doubt on Merck's ability to convince the jury that short-term use of Vioxx does not increase the risk of heart attack or stroke - a fact that could have a bearing on future cases.

In the event of a retrial, Merck will need a unanimous verdict if it is to win the case.

The Irvin trial was the first to be filed in federal court and follows two cases in state courts, which resulted in a victory and a defeat for Merck.

After the blow of a defeat in the first case, Merck enjoyed a turnaround in fortunes when a New Jersey court found in its favour against Frederick Mike Humeston, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran who sued Merck after suffering a heart attack in 2001.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine alleged that the company excluded safety data from a published study on Vioxx - an allegation that could threaten Merck's defence in impending litigation.

Vioxx, which was taken by around 400,000 people in the UK, was withdrawn from the market in September 2004 because of safety fears.

Related articles:

Merck looks to rebuild reputation one year on from Vioxx 

Thursday , October 13, 2005


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