March 6, 2006

Merck tried to hide Vioxx risk, attorney says

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - Merck & Co. knew its
painkiller Vioxx significantly increased the risk of heart
attack but worked to hide the evidence from doctors, patients
and the scientific community to boost profits, a lawyer for a
former Vioxx user argued on Monday.

In opening arguments in the latest trial over the withdrawn
drug, Mark Lanier, an attorney for a man who blames Vioxx for
his 2003 heart attack, said the company was driven by marketing
rather than science and was determined to make Vioxx into a
blockbuster drug with sales of at least $1 billion a year.

Lanier, who won the first case against the company last
year in Texas, accused five Merck executives of hiding the
truth about Vioxx.

In his opening statement lasting about an hour and 15
minutes, the lawyer repeatedly used a graphic of man standing
near the edge of a cliff, and claimed that Vioxx pushed users
over the edge of the cliff, when combined with other
cardiovascular risk factors such as age, weight and

"When you take Vioxx and you are walking close to the edge
of the cliff, you are a walking time bomb," Lanier said.

This trial combines two cases and for the first time
involves long-term Vioxx users. The plaintiffs are Lanier
client Thomas Cona, a 59-year-old New Jersey businessman who
says he took Vioxx for 22 months before his June 2003 heart
attack, and John McDarby, 77, who blames four years of Vioxx
use for his heart attack in April 2004.

The length of Vioxx use is critical in this case as Merck
has said it pulled the $2.5 billion a year drug from the market
only after a study showed using the drug continuously for at
least 18 months doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke.

In earlier trials the company argued that there was no
evidence that short-term Vioxx use increased heath risks.