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Pfizer Faces First Lawsuit Over Bextra

Painkiller in same class as Merck's recalled Vioxx

Nov 17, 2004 | The Star Ledger It was only a matter of time before the lawsuits started naming Pfizer, not just Merck.

A New Jersey woman has filed a lawsuit claiming her husband died from a heart attack after taking Pfizer's Bextra, raising the specter the world's biggest drug maker could face legal problems.

Merck is already facing huge liability concerns after pulling Vioxx a painkiller in the same class of drugs as Bextra off the market Sept. 30. Immediately after Merck recalled Vioxx, Pfizer said its own drugs, Celebrex and Bextra, did not pose the same risk of causing heart attack or stroke.

But Pfizer later acknowledged that some studies showed taking Bextra an arthritis pain medicine similar to Vioxx could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Jerrold Parker, an attorney at Parker & Waichman in Great Neck, N.Y., said yesterday the lawsuit is the first involving Bextra to be filed against Pfizer.

Susan Bro, a spokesman for New York-based Pfizer, said she was "not familiar" with the Bextra lawsuit and the company doesn't discuss lawsuits.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in state court in New York by Susan Raymond of Parlin.

According to the complaint, Raymond's husband, Kyle, suffered a fatal heart attack June 8, 2003.

The victim, who was 46, had taken Bextra for about 10 months, according to Parker.

Merck has been hit hard by the recall of Vioxx, with shares down more than 40 percent and the company facing hundreds of lawsuits that could eventually cost Merck billions of dollars.

Advertisements from plaintiffs attorneys seeking Vioxx users who might have a claim have become common in newspapers and on the radio. So far, Pfizer has avoided a similar fate.

But it remains to be seen whether the problems with Vioxx extend to similar medicines taken by millions of consumers. The drugs have been heavily promoted as a way to relieve chronic arthritis pain without causing stomach ulcers.

Pfizer contends large, long-term studies show Celebrex and Bextra do not pose the same dangers as Vioxx, even though they are all part of the same Cox-2 family of drugs.

Pfizer says two smaller studies showing a problem with Bextra were limited to patients who had undergone open heart surgery and, therefore, do not apply to typical patients.

But some medical experts have raised questions about the safety of Bextra and the class of medicines.

Earlier this month, two leading researchers presented data at a major medical meeting saying Bextra presented the same elevated risk of heart attack or stroke. They criticized Pfizer for failing to promptly disclose scientific data. Pfizer said the findings were flawed.

Bextra accounted for $687 million in sales last year, while Celebrex sales exceeded $3 billion. Vioxx sales were $2.5 billion.

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