Shares of Merck & Co. plunged more than 7 percent Monday after a media report said that documents show the pharmaceutical giant hid or denied evidence for years that its blockbuster arthritis drug Vioxx cause heart problems.
Merck, one of the world’s top five drug makers, pulled the arthritis and acute pain drug from the market worldwide on Sept. 30, saying it was acting in patients’ best interest. Vioxx has been taken by about 20 million Americans and had produced 11 percent of Merck’s total revenues.
On Monday, Merck shares were down $2.22, or 7.1 percent, at $29.09 after The Wall Street Journal reported that internal e-mails and marketing materials show the company knew as far back as 2000 that Vioxx was linked to an increased risk of heart attack but tried to discredit such evidence.
Despite a March 9, 2000 e-mail from Merck research director Edward Scolnick to colleagues conceding an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke was “clearly there,” according to the newspaper, Merck continued to try to discredit academic researchers critical of the drug.
The Journal reported that one training document from Merck listed potentially difficult questions about the drug and stated in capital letters, “DODGE!”
Merck shares had been trading in the $45 range until the withdrawal announcement, plunged to the mid $30s that day and have hovered just above $30 since then. The stock price was as high as $49 per share in February and was slightly above $90 at the end of 2000, before the recession.