Merck & Co has continued its string of wins in its defence of Vioxx liability lawsuits with a victory in a Los Angeles court, the first case it has defended in California.

The jury in the case sided with the company is ruling that Vioxx (rofecoxib) was not responsible for the heart attack suffered by Stewart Grossberg in 2001, neither was it negligent or guilty of concealing information.

Grossberg, aged 71, had sought compensatory and punitive damages, and more than $214,000 for medical bills. He claimed he had taken Vioxx for several years, but only on an ‘as-needed’ and not a daily basis.

The case was perceived as a likely win for Merck, as it has argued effectively in earlier cases that long-term, regular use of Vioxx – typically 18 months or more – is needed for the drug to raise cardiovascular risk. Older plaintiffs have also found it harder to convince juries that the drug and not their underlying disease has been the primary cause of their heart attack.

During the trial, Merck pointed to evidence showing that Grossberg has high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis and a family history of cardiac problems.

Merck has now won five Vioxx cases, including a critical trial last month in New Jersey involving a woman who had taken the drug for two years, and lost three. Another trial began this week in New Orleans.

In April, a Texas jury awarded $32 million to a man whose heart attack was deemed to be caused by Vioxx, even though he had taken the drug for only a few weeks. Meanwhile, earlier the same month a case involving the first long-term user of the drug also found against the company, awarding compensatory and punitive damages of $13.5 million. Merck is appealing against both the rulings.

The drugmaker has insisted it intends to fight each case brought against it alleging damages from Vioxx, but prior to this ruling there had been speculation the company may be forced into a settlement agreement on unfavourable terms.

Kenneth Frazier, senior vice president and general counsel of Merck, said the latest verdict “demonstrates, again, why we will defend these cases on a case-by-case basis."