HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, June 24, 2005

More Bads Act by Merck

An Associated Press piece details some new wrongdoing by Merck with respect to its Vioxx drug.  According to the article,

That document, a communication between Merck researchers and the company's patent department, stated that the way Vioxx works to reduce pain might also increase cardiovascular problems. They suggested a patent be sought for a combination drug mixing Vioxx with another agent to lessen the risk.

Merck removed Vioxx from the market last September after a later study showed it doubled patients' risk of heart attacks and strokes. Thousand of wrongful death and injury lawsuits have been filed against Merck based on claims that the company hid Vioxx's risks. Analysts estimate the company's liability could reach as high as $18 billion. The first trial is set to begin next month in Angleton, Texas.

The document is potentially among the most damaging to emerge since the drug's sales were suspended because it calls into question the bedrock Merck defense that company officials were convinced of the drug's safety. The desire to reformulate the drug suggests a level of urgency that goes beyond previously disclosed internal e-mails that discussed safety risks.

"The document suggests a level of concern about the drug. The fact that they wanted to patent a different product raises questions — it says something," said Anthony Sebok, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. "Should they have been open about concerns? The failure to be honest is what gets companies (in product liability cases) in trouble."

A copy of the document was provided to The Associated Press on the condition that its source not be identified. A lawyer for Merck declined to discuss the specifics of the document, contending that it was a privileged internal company discussion.

Well, it doesn't look good for Merck right now . . . [bm]

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