Jurors continued deliberating Friday in the latest Vioxx trial as some legal experts said Merck & Co.’s defense against thousands of similar lawsuits would be hurt by an accusation that company scientists had downplayed the pain reliever’s heart attack risk.
A rare “expression of concern” posted online Thursday by New England Journal of Medicine editors chastised Merck scientists for failing to report three nonfatal heart attacks among Vioxx users who were at low risk of cardiac problems.
The editors said two scientists employed by Merck knew about the three heart attacks more than four months before the journal published an article by the scientists about a Vioxx study conducted in 2000. The editors said they determined that information about the heart attacks had been deleted two days before the article was submitted.
The editors also said the three heart attacks would have led to different conclusions about the risk of Vioxx, particularly among users who were not predisposed to heart problems.
Merck representatives did not return calls Friday. The company issued a statement Thursday saying the heart attacks had been reported after a cutoff date for data for the study. Merck also said it promptly disclosed the three heart attacks to the Food and Drug Administration, as well as in a news release.
Merck withdrew the drug from the market in September 2004. The company faces more than 6,500 lawsuits that blame Vioxx for heart attacks, strokes and deaths. Analysts have estimated the litigation could cost Merck $50 billion.