Merck & Co says that over 93% of the 47,000 people who allege that the arthritis drug Vioxx caused their heart attack or stroke have submitted claims in the company’s multibillion dollar settlement offer.

The New Jersey-based giant said that of the 47,000 people who registered eligible complaints, about 44,000 have submitted some or all of the documents that could qualify them for an interim payment in the programme to resolve state and federal myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke claims filed against Merck in the USA over Vioxx (rofecoxib), the COX-2 inhibitor which was withdrawn in 2004.

“We are very pleased with the large number of enrolments we are seeing and are confident that when the enrolments are verified, all 85% thresholds will be met and exceeded within the timeframes in the agreement," said Ted Mayer, a lawyer representing Merck. Meeting that 85% threshold obligates the firm to pay $4.85 billion in installments into a previously-announced resolution fund.

By asking to resolve cases with the proposed settlement, individuals agree to give up their lawsuits. However, Mr Mayer added that the numbers are still only a preliminary indication that there will be enough cases to allow the settlement to go into effect. "There is a considerable amount of documentation that has to be reviewed before the definitive determination can be made that the thresholds have been met," he noted.

Merck added that another 5,000 claimants have sought to enroll “and their eligibility status still has to be determined”.