Merck & Co. Inc.’s ex-research chief, in video testimony played for New Jersey jurors on Tuesday, acknowledged that data from studies on the effects of the painkiller Vioxx on Alzheimer’s disease patients, showing an increased incidence of deaths, were not immediately disclosed to physicians.
Former Merck research head Edward Scolnick also said he did not see all of the data related to the Alzheimer’s studies and was unaware what information about the tests’ findings had been turned over to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Attorneys for plaintiff Frederick Humeston on Tuesday displayed findings from two Merck studies that showed an increased incidence of deaths in Alzheimer’s patients who took Vioxx compared with others who took a placebo, or dummy pill. The tests were designed to determine if Vioxx could reduce the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
Scolnick’s videotaped testimony, recorded on May 17 and shown to jurors in Atlantic City Superior Court on Tuesday, was monitored via Court TV’s Web site.
The trial is the second stemming from Merck’s withdrawal of Vioxx from the market in September 2004. In the first trial, a Texas jury last month awarded the widow of a Vioxx user $253 million, but that amount is expected to be reduced to about $26 million because of state caps on damage awards.
Under questioning by David Buchanan, an attorney for Humeston, Scolnick said he could not recall any alerts sent to doctors about the studies once Merck learned of the results, nor was he aware of the drug company publishing anything about the studies’ findings in prominent medical journals.
When asked by Buchanan if doctors should have been made aware of the studies’ results, he replied: “It’s data that physicians should know.”
Humeston, an Idaho postal worker who blames Vioxx for his 2001 heart attack, contends that Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck hid Vioxx’s risks in an effort to preserve its blockbuster sales and that the Alzheimer’s studies should have raised red flags about the drug’s safety.
Vioxx, introduced in 1999, had annual sales of about $2.5 billion until its withdrawal. Merck pulled Vioxx from the market after a separate study showed an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients who took it for 18 months or more.
Merck has vowed to fight each of the roughly 5,000 Vioxx lawsuits it faces, saying it acted responsibly in withdrawing the drug as soon as it learned of the heart risks.
Other excerpts of Scolnick’s video testimony were played for the jury last week. The trial is now in its third week.