The first Vioxx related trial did not go well for Merck. A Texas jury found Merck guilty on counts in the death of Robert Ernst who took the drug and later died of heart problems and awarded his family $253.4 million in damages.
The damage award combines his lost pay as a manager at Wall Mart, mental anguish, loss of companionship and punitive damages. Under Texas law punitive damages are capped at twice the amount of economic damages.
Not surprisingly Merck, which had argued all along that Mr. Ernst died of health problems not related to Vioxx, said it would appeal the verdict. Merck removed Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. This study put all Cox 2 inhibitor drugs under the spotlight and eventually contributed to the removal of Bextra from the market and increased warnings on the Celebrex label. Both Bextra and Celebrex are manufactured by Pfizer.
Merck still faces thousands of lawsuits brought by victims the Cox 2 painkiller. In the months following the Vioxx’s removal from the market, it was revealed that Merck was aware of the potential cardiac problems with the drug. However, the company withheld this information from patients and doctors. With sales of approximately $2.5 billion per year, Vioxx was one of Merck’s most successful drugs.