Here is a report from the Associated Press about the second Vioxx trial to be held in New Jersey:
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – A Merck & Co. marketing executive acknowledged Tuesday that the company was under pressure in 1998 to get its arthritis drug Vioxx on the market ahead of rival Pfizer’s drug Celebrex, with the company forecasting millions in lost sales if it did not win the race.
Called as the first witness Monday by lawyers for two New Jersey men who blame Vioxx for their heart attacks, Merck’s David W. Anstice returned to the stand and engaged in more chilly exchanges with plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier.
Lanier, who represents 59-year-old Thomas Cona of Cherry Hill, pressed Anstice to admit that Merck compressed clinical studies of the drug and rushed Vioxx to market. Anstice gave little ground.
Under questioning by Lanier, Anstice did acknowledge that his pay was pegged to Merck’s sales and profits. Merck did not win the race to get the drug to market.
Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee said a female juror had been excused because of a problem with whether she would be paid while serving on the panel.
“She just couldn’t afford to stay,” Higbee said.
Cona, 59, and John McDarby, 77, of Park Ridge have had their cases consolidated into one for the trial. Higbee is also using time limits – and a pair of chess clocks to enforce them – in a bid to accelerate the pace of litigation over the drug, which Merck pulled off the market in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes when taken for 18 months or more.
So far, Merck has won two cases and lost one, and another Vioxx trial is being heard in Rio Grande City, Texas.
Lanier, who won a $253 million verdict on behalf of a Vioxx user’s widow last August, put his quirky courtroom demeanor and combative interrogation skills on display in opening statement Monday and later in his questioning of Anstice.
Holding up packets of Vioxx pills as he spoke, Lanier said Merck’s development and testing of the drug was dominated by marketing concerns instead of medical ones and that Cona lived with heart disease risk factors but wasn’t stricken until he began taking Vioxx.
When Anstice took the stand Monday, the two had a series of lively exchanges, with Lanier grilling him about Merck’s marketing of the drug and its desire in the late 1990s to come up with a drug that would sell enough to offset the loss of revenue from six Merck drugs that were soon to come off patent, clearing the way for competitors to begin selling equivalents.
Robert Gordon, a lawyer for McDarby, told the jury that McDarby – a diabetic – would never have had Vioxx prescribed for his arthritis pain if Merck had properly warned of its dangers.
Both plaintiffs appeared in court Monday, listening intently from the gallery along with family members.
The trial is expected to be closely watched because it is the first involving long-term Vioxx use, and even Merck conceded the drug may cause problems over a sustained period. Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in September 2004 after a clinical study showed it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes after 18 months’ use.
Cona’s lawyers say he took it for 22 months; McDarby’s say he took it for four years.
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, sold the drug beginning in 1999 as a pain reliever for arthritis and osteoarthritis sufferers who found other pain drugs too harsh on the stomach.
More than 9,650 lawsuits over Vioxx have been filed in state and federal courts.
In his opening statement, Gordon said Merck sales representatives “falsely reassured” McDarby’s doctor about Vioxx’s safety and the lawyer sought to neutralize Merck’s arguments about McDarby’s medical problems by saying the drug was at least a contributing factor in his 2003 heart attack.
The heart attack left McDarby’s heart permanently damaged. The retired insurance agent went from being an active senior enjoying his golden years to a wheelchair-bound man who needs help from his wife to dress and use the toilet, his lawyer said.
In the last New Jersey trial, a jury absolved Merck of liability for an Idaho postal worker who suffered a heart attack after taking Vioxx for only two months.