Pfizer Announces Bextra, Celebrex Settlement

Pfizer has reached a tentative agreement to settle lawsuits involving its <"">Bextra and <"">Celebrex painkillers for  $894 million.  If it goes forward, the Pfizer Bextra and Celebrex settlement will resolve roughly 90 percent of the personal injury lawsuits the company faces because of the drugs.

Celebrex and Bextra are COX-2 inhibitors, a class of drugs that also includes Merck’s recalled Vioxx.  Such medications are linked to an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Pfizer withdrew Bextra from the market in 2005, and  Celebrex is the only COX-2 inhibitor still on the market in the United States.

Celebrex carries the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) strictest “black-box” warning on its drug label, stating that it may cause an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.  Despite its apparent risk, Celebrex continued to generate $2.3 billion in sales in 2007, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

According to The New York Times, $760 million of the Bextra and Celebrex settlement would go to settle roughly 7,000  personal injury cases, $60 million will cover settlements with attorneys general in the 33 states and the District of Columbia, and $89 million will cover consumer fraud class action cases over reimbursement for money spent on the two drugs.

Pfizer said it hopes to finalize the settlement by the end of the year.  A spokesperson for the company said that Pfizer would also like to include many of the remaining personal injury lawsuits the settlement.  The company will fight those not settled with court motions or at trial.

COX-2 inhibitors have been the subject of safety worries since 2004, when Merck pulled Vioxx from the market.  The FDA ordered the painkiller off the market after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to more than 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003. The Vioxx recall led to thousands of lawsuits.

Last November, Merck announced a $4.85 billion settlement with the thousands of people who had filed Vioxx injury lawsuits.  Under the terms of the settlement, Merck set up a $4 billion fund for people who claim they suffered heart attacks as a result of Vioxx, and another $850 million fund for those who suffered ischemic strokes. Partial settlement payments started going out to some Vioxx plaintiffs last month.

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