Then, in May of last year the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study which found that Vioxx had the potential to initiate heart attacks in as little as two weeks after first ingesting the drug.
Approved and introduced in 1999, Vioxx turned out to be a lion for Merck, with sales totalling U.S. $2.5 billion in its' last full year on the market.
The popular drug was pulled voluntarily two-and-a-half years ago after Merck's own studies suggested a link between the drug and heart attack within an 18-month window. But this latest Canadian study, which involved 3,947 patients over the age of 65 taking Vioxx for pain, added new fuel to the fire. Of those patients, 239 suffered heart attacks, with 25 per cent experiencing myocardial infarction within a few weeks of receiving the first Vioxx prescription.
A lawsuit heard in a Texas court just prior to the release of the above-noted study seems to back up those claims. In April of 2006 a jury in Rio Grande City levied a judgement of U.S. $32 million against Merck in the case of a Texas man who suffered a fatal heart attack less than a month after taking Vioxx for the first time.
And that's just one of thousands, upon thousands of lawsuits in the pipeline, generated by disgruntled consumers who have suffered ill health, or the death of a loved one, as a consequence of ingesting Vioxx.
Vioxx is scientifically known as Rofecoxib, and was an anti-inflammatory drug most often prescribed for pain from arthritis, osteoarthritis, menstrual and other forms of acute pain. Along with Aspirin, Vioxx is a member of the analgesic drug family, and is not a steroid. It is estimated that two million people have used Vioxx worldwide in the five years it was available.
Ironically, a Harvard-based study published Friday in the New England Journal (NEJM) of Medicine cited the potential effectiveness of COX-2 inhibitor drugs -- including Vioxx -- with regard to the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. Dr. Sanford Markowitz, a colon cancer geneticist and author of an editorial that accompanied the May 24th study released in the NEJM, suggests that the Vioxx debacle is akin to "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." He goes on to say that there is the potential for new, groundbreaking frontiers on behalf of the drug companies for a new line of drugs targeting the COX-2 gene, for the intervention with colon cancer.
For its' part there has been no recent sightings of any funding reserves for the settlement of lawsuits, beyond the war chest required to defend Merck & Co. against a daunting wave of litigation.
READ MORE LEGAL NEWSOne lawsuit in particular is being watched closely: in October, an action brought against Merck for the wrongful death of a Mingo County man is scheduled to begin under the leadership of lead lawyer Mark Lanier.
A previous case litigated against Merck by Lanier resulted in an award of U.S. $253.5 million, including $229 million in punitive damages.
The new information concerning Vioxx, and the potential for a much earlier threat, could bring even more lawsuits out of the woodwork. So far, Merck is facing an astounding 27,000 lawsuits. Undaunted, it is actively marketing the successor to Vioxx, a drug called Arcoxia, around the globe. It's currently available in 83 countries, and Merck is trying to get it approved in the U.S. Just last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted overwhelmingly not to make Arcoxia available in the United States.
Merck plans to keep aggressively seeking approval.