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Mistrial in first federal Vioxx case

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Jan. 2, 2006

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A hung jury led a federal judge in Houston in December 2005 to declare a mistrial in the first federal lawsuit to go to court against the makers of the painkiller Vioxx.

The jury could not agree whether drug manufacturer Merck & Co. was liable in the death of Richard Irvin, a Florida man who died of a heart attack in 2001 after using Vioxx (rofecoxib) for a short time. The lawsuit is one of thousands accusing Merck of failing to issue safety warnings about Vioxx. Merck officials voluntarily pulled the COX-2 inhibitor from the shelves in September 2004 after data pointed to increased cardiovascular risk for patients who took the drug for at least 18 months.

Philip Beck, Merck's lead trial counsel, said they were pleased that eight of nine jurors sided with the company. "In a state court, that would be enough for a defendant to win outright," he said. Federal courts require a unanimous verdict.

The decision coincided with a New England Journal of Medicine editorial that said Merck withheld data on three heart attack patients for a 2000 article in the journal. Journal editors said excluding the data made the drug study's safety conclusions incorrect.

Jere Beasley, who represents Irvin's family, said the NEJM report will be crucial in strengthening their case. Beck, however, said the editorial would not have a significant effect on the retrial. He said Merck submitted the data in an appropriate and timely manner. At press time, a retrial date had not been set.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/01/02/prbf0102.htm.

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