Senate investigators examining Merck’s recall of its Vioxx painkiller have interviewed an Alabama lawyer whose firm has filed 58 lawsuits against the company on
behalf of people claiming injuries.
The lawyer, Andy Birchfield, said he met for more than three hours in Washington on Monday with staff members of the Senate Finance Committee, which is led by Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican. Mr. Birchfield said he handed over company documents and statements of Merck executives and scientists obtained during the litigation.
Senator Grassley has been investigating whether the Food and Drug Administration was slow in responding to safety concerns about Vioxx. Merck, the nation’s second-largest drug maker, withdrew the product from the market Sept. 30 after a study showed patients who took it 18 months or more had twice the risk of heart attacks or strokes of those taking a placebo.
Merck shares fell nearly 10 percent Monday after The Wall Street Journal reported that company documents, e-mail messages and marketing materials indicated that the company knew about safety concerns much earlier than the company acknowledged. The stock fell $3.03, to $28.28, its lowest level in eight years.
A Merck spokesman, Tony Plohoros, declined to comment on Mr. Birchfield’s meeting with Senate investigators.
“Past experience of other companies in such situations suggests that documents will be deliberately presented out of context to advance the interest of the parties who have started Vioxx litigation,” Mr. Plohoros said in an e-mail message.
An e-mail statement from Senator Grassley’s office confirmed the meeting with Mr. Birchfield and said that committee investigators had met with Merck lawyers and representatives last week to discuss the inquiry and review documents Merck produced for the committee.
In a statement included with the e-mail message, Senator Grassley said: “The documents being brought to the attention of the committee raise more concerns and questions than answers. I understand that Merck says these documents, including some disturbing marketing materials and internal e-mails, are being taken out of context. As this committee’s investigation continues, I intend to obtain answers and context from Merck on Vioxx.”