Jurors have begun deliberating the second case concerning Merck & Co’s now-withdrawn painkiller, Vioxx (rofecoxib), while the Industry watches with baited breath as to the outcome.
The first case resulted in hefty damages of almost $250 million dollars being awarded to the widow of Robert Ernst, who took Vioxx for tendonitis and died suddenly in his sleep [[220805a]]. Although the final figure is likely to be heavily cut, because of state capping on punitive damages, the decision reverberated around the Industry and triggered a spate of new lawsuits.
So lawyers changed tactics for the second trial, which involves 60-year-old Vietnam war veteran Frederick Humeston who blames Vioxx for a heart attack he suffered in 2001, and upped its defense strategy to include a stronger focus on science [[16/09/05b]]. However, this was thrown into disarray after testimony from a leading Merck scientist was disallowed after being deemed inexpert [[10/10/05b]].
Merck has also tried to place question marks over the credibility of Mr Humeston and, in closing statements on Monday, called for the jury to use common sense in coming to its decision, saying: “It's up to you to decide whether the plaintiff is playing it straight with you.”
But the prosecution has instead played an emotional game with the jury, focusing on accusations that Merck was more interested in profits than patient safety and underplayed the cardiovascular risks associated with Vioxx – a multi-billion dollar drug before its removal from the market in October 2004 [[01/10/04a]].
Merck now faces 6,400 individual lawsuits, plus 160 class action suits, with its first trial in a federal court due to begin later on this month [[25/10/05a]].