The COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx was “the one uncontrollable risk factor” that caused the nonfatal heart attack of 68-year-old Elaine Doherty, who had taken the medication for more than two years, plaintiff attorney James Pettit on Tuesday said in opening arguments of the latest trial related to the treatment.

Bloomberg/South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports (Voreacos, Bloomberg/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/6). Merck, which withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 over safety concerns, faces about 13,000 lawsuits related to the medication.

The current lawsuit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court, alleges that Vioxx caused Doherty to experience a nonfatal heart attack in January 2004. On Monday, Pettit said that Merck was aware of the cardiovascular risks of Vioxx but downplayed them in an April 2002 letter sent to physicians (Johnson, AP/Miami Herald, 6/6).

Merck attorney Diane Sullivan in opening arguments said that Doherty had seven of nine major risk factors for a heart attack, such as a sedentary lifestyle and a family history of cardiovascular disease. “It would be hard to find somebody with more risk factors than Mrs. Doherty,” Sullivan said, adding, “She was a ticking time bomb” (Bloomberg/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/6). Pettit said that Doherty had lost 90 pounds, reduced her cholesterol level by half and lowered her blood pressure and blood sugar level prior to her heart attack.

In addition, he told the jury that the plaintiff must prove only that “Vioxx was one substantial contributing factor” to the heart attack to find Merck liable in the case (AP/Miami Herald, 6/6). Sullivan said, “Mrs. Doherty, good for her, tried to get some of her factors under control. But it was too little and too late” (Bloomberg/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/6). The trial, which began Monday, likely will last about one month (AP/Miami Herald, 6/6).

Celebrex Trial Delayed

In related news, a federal judge in San Francisco has delayed the start of the first trial related to the COX-2 inhibitor Celebrex, manufactured by Pfizer, to provide attorneys with more time to collect information about the medication, plaintiff attorney Paul Sizemore said on Monday, Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times reports.

Pfizer faces more than 1,500 federal lawsuits related to Celebrex, which remains on the market despite safety concerns. In the current lawsuit, Alabama resident Rosie Ware alleges that Celebrex caused her to experience a stroke in February 2005.

Sizemore said the trial might not begin until early 2007, as Pfizer and plaintiff attorneys establish a schedule for federal and state Celebrex lawsuits. He added, “I don’t think we’re going to see 11,500 (cases) as in the Vioxx litigation but probably about half that number.” Bryant Haskins, a spokesperson for Pfizer, said that the company agreed to the delay (Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times, 6/6).

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