Merck may pull back from Vioxx fight and settle some cases
The Daily Telegraph
By Sylvia Pfeifer (Filed: 28/08/2005)

Merck, the US pharmaceuticals giant, is considering settling some lawsuits from patients who allege they were harmed after taking its painkiller Vioxx.

The move would be a significant about-turn by the company, which had previously said that it would fight each of the thousands of Vioxx lawsuits one by one.



Merck withdrew Vioxx from sale last year

Merck's decision comes nine days after a Texas state jury awarded $253.4m (141m) in damages to a widow of a man who died of an irregular heartbeat after taking Vioxx for just eight months. The award was a major blow for Merck, which has said it plans to appeal against the verdict.

The company has set aside $675m to fight any Vioxx litigation, but there have been suggestions that the group could face legal claims of up to $18bn.

The drugs giant withdrew the best-selling painkiller last September after research found that it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes in some patients. The drug had been taken by more than 20m people worldwide, including some 400,000 patients in the UK.

The company said it will look primarily at a relatively small group of cases that involve patients who used Vioxx for more than 18 months and had no other risk factors for heart attacks or strokes.

The move suggests for the first time that a settlement of a small number of Vioxx cases may be part of Merck's plan. It is expected to give hope to people considering legal action against the company.

The loss of the Texas court case has led lawyers to predict that Merck could be hit by a flood of more claims. Last week the company said that as of August 15 it faced nearly 5,000 lawsuits alleging patients were harmed by the drug - nearly 600 more cases than its update five weeks earlier.

The company is already facing lawsuits from more than 150 potential claimants in the UK who are set to file cases against the drugs company in the US in the next few weeks.

Some experts believe Merck could be mired in litigation linked to Vioxx for more than 10 years.

The next Vioxx trial is set to begin on September 12 in Atlantic City, New Jersey - Merck's home state - although the company's lawyers have asked the state court to delay the case by 45 days to allow a "torrent" of bad publicity from the Texas trial to die down.

Since the Vioxx withdrawal, Merck has seen its market value fall by $30bn to around $60bn.

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