Merck & Co has completed its defense in the federal Vioxx (rofecoxib) lawsuit, with the jury in the case due to start their deliberations later today.

The lawsuit has been brought by the widow of Richard Irvin, a 53-year-old man who died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx (rofecoxib) for about a month to relieve back pain. Her lawyers maintain that Vioxx is the cause of his heart attack. Yesterday, cardiologist Thomas Wheeler of the Baylor College of Medicine testified that Irvin died as a result of underlying heart disease, and Vioxx played no part.

Merck was also under fire in the Houston court over press releases issued in 2000, in the wake of the results of its VIGOR study which uncovered a link between Vioxx and an increased risk of heart attack and led to the voluntary withdrawal of the drug last year. The prosecution alleges that the company’s releases failed to give an accurate representation of the risks associated with the drug. In its defense, Merck insists that they reflected the clinical evidence available at that time.

So far, Merck has won one civil lawsuit in the Vioxx drug liability litigation and lost another. Around 7,000 cases are still outstanding and analysts said earlier this year the company could face liabilities of up to $50 billion.

The company has just announced a major restructuring, including 7,000 staff cuts, in a bid to save $4 billion in costs by 2008.