In the first full day of defense testimony at the federal Vioxx trial in Houston, witnesses for drug manufacturer Merck presented the company and its scientists as careful, methodical and, above all, concerned about the safety of the users of its drugs.

Speaking in soft and measured tones, Alise Reicin, Merck’s vice president of clinical research, told jurors, “We take the safety of medications that we give to patients extremely seriously.”

The trial involves the fatal heart attack of a 53-year-old Florida man, Richard “Dicky” Irvin. Irvin died in 2001 after taking Vioxx for less than a month.

Plaintiff lawyers have argued that Merck knew Vioxx could cause fatal heart attacks long before it withdrew the drug from the market last year. They have cited a study known as “VIGOR,” which found that patients on Vioxx had five times as many heart attacks as those on an older painkiller, naproxen. Merck learned of those results in 2000.

Reicin told jurors she was “quite concerned” when she first heard about the VIGOR findings.

She said scientists at the company immediately went back to data from previous Vioxx studies to see if they contained signs of risk, but found nothing. “We wanted to make sure we hadn’t missed something. We redid the analyses,” she testified.

Reicin said, at that point, she and others looked at data from ongoing studies of Vioxx’s ability to slow and prevent Alzheimer’s. But Merck found no sign in those studies that Vioxx posed a cardiac risk.

“And I must tell you it was very, very comforting data,” Reicin told jurors.

The Alzheimer’s studies used Vioxx and a placebo—unlike the VIGOR study, in which Vioxx was being compared to naproxen.

Reicin said that Merck, in its consultations with outside scientists about how to interpret the excess heart attacks on Vioxx, “overwhelmingly” was told naproxen was “cardioprotective.” In other words, there were more heart attacks in the Vioxx group, not because Vioxx was bad for the heart, but because naproxen was good for it.

Reicin told jurors, “I truly believed (then) and believe today” that Merck’s interpretation of the VIGOR trial was the correct one.

Plaintiff lawyers have produced several witnesses, including prominent medical researchers, who reject that explanation. Further, they have told jurors that if Merck had interpreted the results of the VIGOR study correctly for doctors and the public, Irvin and his doctor would have known that Vioxx posed a risk to the heart—and Irvin would not have taken the drug and died.

At the end of the day, Andy Birchfield, a lawyer for the plaintiff, began his cross-examination of Reicin. He asked why Merck had fought the FDA’s efforts to place a prominent warning about heart attack risks on Vioxx’s label and whether adding such information might have had a financial impact.

“It certainly might have,” Reicin replied, “but it didn’t affect what I thought was right.”

Jurors also heard from California rheumatologist David Silver, who testified that Vioxx’s benefits outweighed its risks.

Silver told jurors that earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration had determined that there was nothing in the scientific data to show that newer painkillers such as Vioxx and Celebrex were riskier for the heart than older painkillers, such as ibuprofen.

In fact, the FDA says it is difficult to make that comparison because comprehensive studies haven’t been done with most of these drugs.

We're here to help!

We live by our creed of "helping those who need it most" and have helped thousands of clients get the justice they desperately needed and deserved. If you feel you have a case or just have questions please contact us for a free consultation. There is no risk and no fees unless we win for you.

Fields marked    may be required for submission.
  1. I'm an attorney

Merck to pay $830 million to settle investors’ Vioxx...

Merck announced Friday it will pay $830 million to settle investor complaints accusing it of committing...

Merck to pay nearly $1 billion for illegal marketing...

American pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme has agreed to pay $950 million to resolve criminal...

Merck paying more than 3,100 vioxx death claims

Merck & Co. is paying claims by the families of more than 3,100 users of its Vioxx painkiller who...

Settlement limits insurers' claims in Vioxx deal

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Former Vioxx users getting part of a $4.85 billion settlement ending most personal...

Persistence pays in Vioxx litigation

Plaintiffs get close to $5B, but Merck could have done a lot worse. Attorneys who spent nearly one year...

Vioxx settlement payments to begin in August

Merck & Co., manufacturer of Vioxx, announced it will make the first payment of $500 million on Aug....

Continuing the battle with Big Pharma

The entire Beasley Allen staff had our personal interest at heart. We were part of the family of a down to earth, trustworthy, understanding law firm. Thank you, Beasley Allen, for continuing the battle with Big Pharma.