Merck film urged sellers to fend off doctor's Vioxx queries

ATLANTIC CITY -- A jury hearing a Vioxx product liability case got its first look yesterday at e-mails, internal documents, and other materials showing manufacturer Merck & Co. was concerned about the drug's potential for causing heart attacks long before taking it off the market.

They also got to watch a movie: ''V Squad," a campy, 12-minute sales-training video played in court, which showed two Merck salespeople dressed as superheroes -- each in a black suit, with an orange ''V" on the chest -- fending off human ''obstacles" who represented questions from doctors to whom the company pitched its blockbuster arthritis drug.

The video, like the internal documents, struck at a central theme in the cases of plaintiffs Thomas Cona and John McDarby -- that Merck knew its drug was dangerous but misled doctors, consumers, and its own sales representatives about the risks in a bid to promote a $2.5 billion-a-year product that was key to the company's future.

The trial, in its second day, focuses on Cona, 59, of Cherry Hill, N.J., and McDarby, 77, of Park Ridge, N.J., who suffered heart attacks while taking Vioxx and are now among thou By Associated Press sands suing the New Jersey-based drug maker over the painkiller.