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Canadian warning for Merck

3rd May 2006

03052006_tablets&dollars1.jpgCanadian scientists are claiming that using Vioxx immediately increased the risk of heart attacks for elderly patients.  This undermines Merck's defence in the lawsuits from users and their families, and puts further pressure on Merck as it fights to limit the financial damage from the withdrawal of its best-selling painkiller, Vioxx.

Although Merck withdrew Vioxx in 2004 after finding that long-term use was associated with heart problems, its lawyers continue to insist that only patients on the drug for more than 18 months were at risk.

A paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at the health records of 114,000 senior citizens taking anti-inflammatories in the Quebec region over a three-year period. Researchers at the McGill University Health Center in Montreal found that a quarter of heart attacks suffered by Vioxx users occurred within two weeks of patients starting taking the drug. The cardiovascular risk peaked on the ninth day after a patient started taking Vioxx, and actually decreased with longer-term use.

Merck said that although it had not seen the Canadian research, it believed the clinical trials which found an increased risk after 18 months of use provided stronger evidence than observational studies that the Canadian research was based on.

The drug's withdrawal in September 2004 led to the early departure of Merck's chief executive Ray Gilmartin, and his replacement by Richard Clark.

Merck is resisting a US-wide settlement to Vioxx lawsuits, which already number 11,500. Juries in several states found it knew about the risks of the drug for up to four years before taking Vioxx off the market in September 2004, and Merck has lost more cases so far than it has won. Last month, Merck said it would appeal a $32m (£18m) pay-out ordered by a court in Texas for the family of a man who had a heart attack after taking Vioxx for less than a month.

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