NEW YORK – Merck & Co. (MRK), which lost its first Vioxx product liability case last summer in Texas, Tuesday said a trial involving another Texas Vioxx user who suffered a fatal heart attack will begin Jan. 24.
Merck said it believes evidence in the case will show that its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx did not cause the heart attack of 71-year-old Leonel Garza Sr., who died of the attack on April 21, 2001.
"Approximately one month before his death, Mr. Garza was given a one-week supply of Vioxx 25 milligram samples for arm pain," Merck said in a release.
Merck, which contends Vioxx has not posed a heart danger to short-term users of Vioxx, said Garza had a 23-year history of cardiovascular disease and had suffered a prior heart attack.
Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in September 2004 after a study showed the drug, which had annual sales of $2.5 billion, significantly increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients who had been taking it for at least 18 months.
Thousands of U.S. state and federal lawsuits have since been filed against Merck by former Vioxx users or their survivors, alleging harm from the widely advertised pill.
In the earlier Texas case, a state jury on Aug. 19 found Merck negligent in the death of a 59-year-old marathoner and awarded his widow $253 million. The amount is expected to be greatly reduced under Texas law that limits awards.
Since losing that first state trial in Texas, a New Jersey state jury found Merck did not commit consumer fraud or conceal risks associated with the painkiller in the case of a short-term Vioxx user who blamed the drug for his heart attack.
The first federal Vioxx trial, held in Houston last year, ended with a hung jury. The suit is scheduled to be retried beginning on Feb. 6 in New Orleans.
Merck shares were off 31 cents at $33.35 on Tuesday morning on the NYSE, in line with moderate declines for the drug sector.