Jurors at the first civil trial for Merck & Co’s now withdrawn painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib), following a link to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke [[01/10/04a]], yesterday heard a taped deposition from the company’s former chief executive Raymond Gilmartin [[06/05/05a]], according to Industry reports.

The case concerns Carol Ernst, the widow of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old triathlete who had been taking Vioxx for tendinitis about six months before he died suddenly in his sleep. The plaintiff – and now the coroner – claim Mr Ernst died of a heart attack caused by Vioxx, but Merck vigorously denies this assertion, saying he had a predisposed condition. Maria Araneta, who conducted the autopsy on patient Robert Ernst, testified Monday after a Merck appeal failed. She originally attributed Mr Ernst's death to an irregular heartbeat and clogged arteries, which Merck says is proof that Vioxx was not responsible for his death. However, she Monday testified that a heart attack killed Mr Ernst but, because of his sudden death, the classic signs of heart damage were not in evidence [[01/08/05a]].

Reports show that Mark Lanier, the plaintiff’s lawyer, has planned to frame his case around Mr Gilmartin: in his opening statement he claimed Mr Gilmartin “took a good drug company and turned it into an ATM machine for himself and his shareholders.” According to an Associated Press report, Mr Gilmartin stressed that Merck did not put profits over safety and claimed the study findings showing a doubling in the risk of heart attack and stroke amongst patients receiving the drug for more than 18 months came as a complete surprise.