A lawsuit by arthritis sufferers who blamed heart attacks or strokes on the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx has been fast-tracked.

The Australian subsidiary of the US firm Merck agreed to drop technical challenges that could have seen the legal action take years to resolve.

Merck Sharp and Dohme also agreed the lawsuit could be transferred from the Victorian Supreme Court to the Federal Court. Around 600 people from across Australia have joined a class action over Vioxx and they will all be represented by Slater & Gordon.

The law firm’s special counsel, Richard Meeran, said the developments meant the lawsuit would be handled more quickly. “We are encouraged by recent US verdicts, which confirm our original assessment that Vioxx was a defective product and that Merck was negligent and liable to compensate people injured by this product,” Mr. Meeran said.

“An aspect highlighted by the US cases is the company’s marketing strategy of minimising the significance of research that had cast serious doubt about the drug’s cardiovascular safety.”

Mr. Meeran said large punitive damages awards had been made in the US for the conduct. About 2000 Australians suffered cardiovascular conditions caused by clots in their arteries after taking Vioxx.

It is believed 250,000 Australians used the drug and it was withdrawn from sale in 2004 because of safety fears. A writ alleges Merck failed to warn that an ingredient of Vioxx significantly increased the risk of arterial thrombosis and cardiovascular conditions.



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