Supreme Court Gives Go Ahead to Vioxx Investor Lawsuit

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for a securities fraud lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co Inc., over its disclosures to investors about <"">Vioxx, said Reuters.

Vioxx, was approved for use in 1999, quickly becoming a bestseller for Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion; however, the painkiller was pulled off the market in 2004 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 withdrawal prompted thousands of product liability lawsuits that claimed Merck didn’t properly warn doctors and patients of the drug’s risks.

To settle most of those suits, Merck established a $4.85 billion fund in November 2007: $4 billion for people who claim they suffered heart attacks as a result of Vioxx, and another $850 million for those who suffered ischemic strokes. The settlements were awarded individually, and the amount each plaintiff ultimately receives will vary.

In the U.S., according to the AP, all Vioxx heart attack claims have already been paid or denied. Nearly 18,000 Vioxx stroke claims are in process, and about 7,400 of those resulted in initial payments. The AP also recently reported that about 355 plaintiff groups did not join the settlement; those lawsuits are still pending. Merck faces four Vioxx lawsuits this year, two bought by patients who didn’t participate in the settlement and two aimed at recovering costs related to use of the painkiller, the AP said.

In the recent case, the judges collectively endorsed a ruling by a U.S. appeals court enabling the lawsuit, which seeks billions of dollars in damages, to proceed, said Reuters. According to the appeals court, the case was not barred under statute of limitation mandates, added Reuters. This securities fraud lawsuit is not related to the $4.85 billion settlement regarding personal injury lawsuits against Merck.

We recently wrote that Bloomberg News reported that Merck & Co.’s Australian unit neglected to warn a physician about cardiac risks associated with the controversial painkiller, citing the findings of a Melbourne court. Merck could be ordered to pay the equivalent of about $261,000 in damages, noted Bloomberg News. The decision in Australia is the first outside of the U.S. and the first class action concerning Vioxx, according to Bloomberg News, citing plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Of note, a study found that evidence of cardiovascular risks linked to Vioxx might have been realized nearly four years before Merck pulled the drug from the market. Also, since its withdrawal, revelations about the way in which Merck marketed Vioxx have raised serious questions about the firm’s conduct. A prior Australian Vioxx trial revealed that Merck paid nurses to look through medical records for potential Vioxx patients—without physician permission—in the hopes of garnering 100 patients per doctor, explained BNET previously. Merck also apparently put on a year-end “skit” in which sales reps mocked the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published an article discussing Vioxx and issues with its cardiovascular side effects, said BNET.

One of the most shocking tactics used by Merck to push Vioxx in Australia involved the use of a fake medical journal, published by Elsevier, offering it like other peer-reviewed medical journals. The articles reprinted or summarized articles, all presenting Merck products, including Vioxx, favorably.

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