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Vioxx payouts

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There, drug giant Merck is facing 6400 separate lawsuits from patients, or their surviving relatives, who claim that its COX-2 anti-inflammatory Vioxx (rofecoxib) has caused heart attack or stroke

There, drug giant Merck is facing 6400 separate lawsuits from patients, or their surviving relatives, who claim that its COX-2 anti-inflammatory Vioxx (rofecoxib) has caused heart attack or stroke.

Merck lost the first case in August when a Texas jury found in favour of a patient's family and awarded compensation of $253 million.

But then, in November, Merck enjoyed a small victory when a New Jersey jury decided that Vioxx had not caused a heart attack in a 60-year-old postal worker.

So now, there are a mere 6398 cases to go, and Merck is committed to fighting every one of them. If it goes badly, analysts estimate the actions could cost Merck around $35 billion in compensation - and that's just for the cases that have been filed thus far.

These are indeed worrying times for drug companies. If word gets out that their products are killing patients, where might it all end? So please, don't tell a soul (Lancet, 2005; 366: 1763-4).


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