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Mistrial Declared in First Federal Vioxx Case

Dec 12, 2005 | Los Angeles Times

The first federal trial involving the pain killer Vioxx ended in a mistrial today after jurors deadlocked on whether the drug was responsible for a heart attack that killed a Florida man in 2001.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., which faces an estimated 6,500 Vioxx lawsuits that could cost as much as $50 billion to resolve, said it was "disappointed" that the federal jury in Houston failed to deliver a verdict but vowed to continue fighting the case if it its comes back to trial.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon declared a mistrial after nine-member jury could not reach a unanimous decision after three days of deliberation. "It has now been a reasonable time. We cannot get a verdict," Fallon said in an account by Associated Press.

The judge said he will meet with attorneys next week to set a retrial date, according to AP.

"If a retrial is scheduled we will be right back with the same facts," said Kenneth C. Frazier, senior vice president and general counsel of Merck in a statement. "The Vioxx litigation will go on for years. We have the resources and the resolve to address these cases, one by one, in a reasonable and responsible manner."

News of the mistrial, which came after Merck won a New Jersey trial but lost in a previous Texas case, sent the company shares down on Wall Street. In early afternoon trading, Merck shares were down about 3% on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Houston trial was the third in which Merck faced charges that its once blockbuster painkiller Vioxx had contributed to heart attacks, strokes and deaths. Merck removed the drug from the market in September 2004.

Testimony in the most recent trial concluded as the company's scientists were accused by a prominent medical journal of downplaying the medicine's heart attack risks.

In a rare move, the New England Journal of Medicine editors took Merck scientists to task 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. Information about the heart attacks had been deleted two days before the article was submitted, according to publication.

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 said 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.

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