ATLANTIC CITY -- Alzheimer's disease patients who took Vioxx in two studies had higher death rates than those on a placebo, but Merck & Co. never notified physicians or its sales representatives, its former chief scientist conceded in testimony played in court yesterday.
Edward Scolnick, former president of Merck Research Laboratories, said under questioning by a lawyer for a postal worker suing the Vioxx maker that doctors prescribing the popular arthritis drug should have been told about the data in 2001. However, some of the Vioxx users died from causes other than heart attack or stroke, including electrocution, pneumonia, head injury, infection, and cancer, Scolnick said on cross-examination by Merck attorney Stephen Raber.
Merck pulled Vioxx off the market last year after a study showed it raised the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. The New Jersey case, filed by Frederick Humeston, 60, of Boise, Idaho, is the second trial of about 5,000 product liability lawsuits brought against the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based drug maker. Humeston survived a 2001 heart attack two months after he started taking Vioxx to ease pain from an old war wound. Humeston, a Vietnam veteran who filed his suit in 2003, is to testify today.
The two Alzheimer's studies, involving about 2,000 patients, were done to determine whether Vioxx could delay the onset or worsening of the neurological disorder. In one, 13 people taking Vioxx died, compared with three taking a dummy pill; in the other, 21 Vioxx takers died, versus nine on a placebo.
Scolnick, who retired in 2002, said he didn't know whether the data were given to the Food and Drug Administration. It was, according to internal Merck documents later shown to jurors.