Vioxx firm may settle with drug claimants

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The Independent US

The US pharmaceutical giant which manufactured the scandal-hit arthritis pain drug Vioxx has signalled that it may consider settling some lawsuits alleging harm from the tablets.

Merck, which was told to pay out $253m (£141m) after a jury in Texas found the drug had contributed to a man's death and that the firm had been negligent, indicated it may soften its stand and settle some of the other related cases out of court. It had previously said it would fight each of the thousands of Vioxx lawsuits one by one.

Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for Merck's legal team, said: "For a relatively small set of cases that involve patients who used Vioxx for over 18 months, we will take a close look." The comment echoed published comments earlier in the day by Merck's general counsel.

The drug is known to have been taken by more than 20 million people worldwide and almost 500,000 Britons have used it. Merck withdrew the popular pain and arthritis drug in September after it was shown to double the risk of heart attack and stroke among patients who took it for 18 months or longer.

Last week a court found Merck to be negligent in the death of a 59-year-old triathlete, Robert Ernst, who died from heart arrhythmia after taking the drug for no more than eight months. It was the first of 4,200 similar lawsuits worldwide.

Merck has vowed to appeal against the verdict and use the lessons learnt from that defeat to better defend itself in the second Vioxx trial, due to begin on 12 September in Atlantic City, the casino resort town 125 miles from the drug-maker's headquarters in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. The company's lawyers have asked the court to delay the start for 45 days to allow a "torrent" of bad publicity from the first trial to die down.

About 2,100 Vioxx cases have been filed in the US. MSB Solicitors in Liverpool, representing affected Britons, is preparing to submit clients' medical records to US doctors, saying thousands of Britons could sue.