Merck & Co will continue to press on with its defence of the beleaguered painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib) despite the judge finding in favour of the plaintiff in the first civil trial since the drug’s global withdrawal last year [[01/10/04a]], [[22/08/05a]].

In an interview with a small number of journalists, the company’s legal representative, Kenneth Frazier, gave no doubt as to Merck’s commitment, saying: “We are in this for the long haul. We have both the resources and the resolve to address these cases over many years.” The comments, reported by Reuters, contradicted earlier sentiment that Merck might consider settling some of the suits brought against it, with Mr Frazier adding: “We have not changed our strategy. We have committed to defending these cases one at a time, and that’s how we intend to proceed.”

Since the size of the fine levied on Merck was unveiled earlier this year, estimates of the US giant’s liability have risen and risen to $50 billion dollars. The judge presiding over the case of Robert Ernst, who died suddenly in his sleep after taking Vioxx for tendonitis, awarded his widow in excess of $250 million dollars. Although this could be slashed significantly because of state legislation capping punitive damages, the decision could encourage a wave of additional lawsuits, sending the numbers sharply upwards from the current figure of 4,200 [[23/08/05c]]. Some estimates have been put at around 100,000 cases.

- Meanwhile, Merck has also lost the right to prevent its next courtroom battle from being televised. The trial, in Atlantic City, begins today.