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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 3, 2005

Merck Off the Mat

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Posted by Derek

Everyone will have heard the news that Merck won their second Vioxx court case in New Jersey this morning. This came as a relief to me and to people like me, for several reasons. The immediate one was just that Merck had survived this latest round, of course. This wasn't a particularly strong case, and I had hopes that Merck would prevail, but you never know how juries are going to run.

And that brings up the second reason: if Merck had lost this one, they could expect to lose plenty more. The plaintiff in this case survived his heart attack, had a history of heart trouble and had other risk factors, and doesn't seem to have been a diligent user of Vioxx at all, which he only took for two months. I'm sure that hundreds (thousands?) of other cases could be found that rise to roughly this level, and Merck would likely be crippled by losing them. Now the focus shifts to a Federal court case in Houston, which starts later this month. I hate to put it in these terms, but this next one is going to be something of a tiebreaker.

I'm not saying that Merck should necessarily win every case, though. Vioxx does seem to carry some cardiovascular risk, Merck does seem to have charged ahead with it, and so many people took it that there must have been some people injured. But the FDA did approve the drug, let's not forget, and it's quite possible to argue that its benefits still outweigh its risks. And even if Merck were to win every trial from here on, they'e still be out a huge amount in legal fees. They've taken a beating, both in their reputation and in their finances, and that's not going away.

So no, I don't think Merck should be able to suddenly make all their troubles go away (not that that's going to happen). But neither do I think that they should be driven into the ground like a tent peg by repeated legal hammer-blows. Drug companies should be punished when they screw up. But destroying them for it, in a chancy industry like this one, will just ensure that we don't have many working drug companies.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Current Events


1. Leo W. Livingston on November 4, 2005 12:12 AM writes...

I have but one Question to ask and didn't hear it from the defense to a doctor.
"With the knoledge we have about Vioxx today. Would you give Vioxx to a person that had any or all heart risk such as... high blood pressure, diabetes,smoker,over weight,bad EKG. To releave back pain?"
I don't think any doctor would take that chance today,with Vioxx.
However, I know a person that in 1999 with all the above risk was given VIOXX 50 ml for 3 months and yes, blockage and Bypass followed.
The fine doctor didn't have the facts from Merk or did he?
That's the question, who is to blame? Merk or the doctor?
Merk won today in their back yard,with a weak case. Mr H. had no bypass and his main complant was he couldn't have sex with his wife.
However,as you said " It's not over for Merk".
I sold my Merk and bought Google. I hope you did too.

Permalink to Comment

2. maobi on November 4, 2005 2:38 AM writes...

"With the knoledge we have about Vioxx today. Would you give Vioxx to a person that had any or all heart risk such as... high blood pressure, diabetes,smoker,over weight,bad EKG. To releave back pain?"

I know of an old lady. Had all kinds of problems. Vioxx allowed her to walk for a couple more years because the pain was so bad without it. She is on so many medications that I'm glad we come from a medical family.

Some people are so ill that it doesn't quite matter that the drug is not zero risk. Think cancer treatment. It's hell, but it beats the alternatives.

Permalink to Comment

3. Tom Bartlett on November 4, 2005 9:07 AM writes...

I am happy for Merck. As I stated previously, I believ they acted responsibly. Having said that, they are not out of hot water yet. They may have benefited by having the venue in New Jersey instead of Texas, like the first trail. Texas has a unique approach to jurisprudence. They seem to be allowing criminal Tom Delay pretty much cherry pick his favorite judge. I wonder if non-Congressman get to do this?

Permalink to Comment

4. rbrychckn on November 4, 2005 9:12 AM writes...

I concur with maobi. I know a number of people who were quite willing to continue taking Vioxx even after it was pulled (and knowing the risks themselves). Arthritis can be a very painful condition and if nothing else works, you'd rather take your chances on a drug that - while it still has risks - showed a relatively low rate of CV events. I think if anyone asked a bunch of doctors whether they'd continue to prescribe Vioxx, you'd get a great variety of responses, with the more aware doctors stating that it's not that cut-and-dry. The cost-benefit is obviously different from patient to patient.

Permalink to Comment

5. Timothy on November 4, 2005 6:02 PM writes...

But destroying them for it, in a chancy industry like this one, will just ensure that we don't have many working drug companies.

Which the same people who caused the market to shrink will use to complain about high drug prices, and lack of development. Idiots.

Permalink to Comment


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Merck Off the Mat:

More on Vioxx II from blogs for industry
The WaPo, the NYT, and Derek Lowe have posted on today's Merck verdict, noted below. The Times confirms the idea that Humeston was not a sympathetic plaintiff. Apparently his attorneys weren't either: Merck this time also benefited from an evid... [Read More]

Tracked on November 3, 2005 11:36 PM


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