Merck & Co. should have known that Vioxx could lead to heart attacks, a drug expert told a jury in a high-profile trial on Monday.
In the Atlantic City, N.J., case, which began last week and is expected to run until mid-October, Frederick “Mike” Humeston, a 60-year-old postal worker from Boise, Idaho, alleges that Vioxx caused his heart attack in 2001. Merck maintains that Mr. Humeston’s poor health and lifestyle led to his heart attack, not Vioxx.
In his second day on the stand, University of Michigan pharmacology professor Benedict Lucchesi said several researchers warned Merck about Vioxx’s potential to cause cardiac problems, particularly in people with pre-existing heart problems, before the painkiller was launched in 1999.
“According to the slogan ‘Merck puts people first,’ I think they should have known,” he said.
Merck has a lot riding on this trial after losing a case in Texas state court last month. A jury in Texas awarded $253.4 million to the widow of a 59-year-old man who died after taking the painkiller. State caps in Texas are expected to reduce the amount of the verdict to about $26 million. Merck has said it plans to appeal that verdict, and to fight each of the 5,000 lawsuits that have been brought against it.
Lawyers for Merck were expected to cross-examine Dr. Lucchesi later Monday or on Tuesday.
For a second day, Mr. Humeston’s lawyer, Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP, showed internal Merck emails and memos that Dr. Lucchesi said appeared to show that the company knew about Vioxx’s dangers.
Dr. Lucchesi, who broke down in tears on Friday after discussing one such email, said he has trained several Merck researchers and accepted money from Merck in the past to fund his educational programs. “For me to come here and have to share this information with you that might not be complimentary to Merck’s programs, I feel funny,” he said. “Then again, I’m a physician. I took an oath.”
Dr. Lucchesi also testified in the Texas trial and is expected to be a witness for plaintiffs in future cases.