ATLANTIC CITY -- Plaintiffs' lawyers in the nation's second lawsuit linking Merck's discontinued painkiller Vioxx to heart ailments rested their case yesterday after three weeks of testimony by 14 witnesses.
Attorneys for Idaho postal worker Frederick Humeston, who blames Vioxx for his 2001 heart attack, concluded with videotaped testimony by top Merck & Co. public relations executives.
Humeston's lawyers questioned staffers at the drug maker about delays in making internal concerns over Vioxx's heart risks public.
The executives countered that they publicized risks they knew about and withdrew Vioxx from the market a year ago after new research indicated extended use could double the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Merck's lawyers are scheduled to present their first witnesses this morning, and Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee is expected to rule later in the day.
Humeston's case is the first to go to trial since August, when a Texas jury found Merck liable in another Vioxx user's death.
This trial is being watched closely because about 5,000 other Vioxx product-liability suits are pending. Industry observers expect many cases will be settled before trial, influenced by the outcome of early cases.
Humeston said he was healthy and taking Vioxx occasionally for knee pain when he suffered the heart attack. Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck counters that work-related stress or other health factors unrelated to Vioxx prompted the attack.
Vioxx was popular with chronic pain sufferers because it is gentler on the stomach than other pain relievers. Merck officials highlighted that in a ''video press release" prepared in reaction to a November 2000 New England Journal of Medicine study about Vioxx. The video release, shown to jurors yesterday, featured a doctor saying the Merck study found rival painkillers could be linked to serious, sometimes deadly, stomach ailments.
The doctor did not mention the same study found that patients taking Vioxx suffered five times as many heart attacks as users of naproxen, an older, cheaper pain pill.
Jan Weiner, Merck's director of global product communications, said in videotaped testimony that further information about the study was included in a printed press release.