ANGLETON, Texas -- Vioxx was important to
He also said a study that last year prompted the New Jersey pharmaceutical giant to pull the drug from the market because of increased heart attack risk was ''totally unexpected."
''Our reputation, our credibility is very important to our success, and we're not going to do anything and have not done anything to compromise that credibility," Gilmartin said in a deposition conducted after he retired in May.
He testified that Merck continued to study Vioxx throughout its time on the market. The company decided to examine cardiovascular effects in three long-term clinical trials already underway to study other uses for Vioxx, including the study that led to Gilmartin's decision to pull the drug. ''We took, I think, the right course, the conservative course, in voluntarily withdrawing the drug," he said.
His deposition was played as part of Merck's defense in the fourth week of testimony in the first of more than 4,200 state and federal lawsuits to go before a jury.
The case centers on the May 2001 death of Robert Ernst, a North Texas
Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September when a study showed it could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. But whether Ernst had a heart attack is in dispute because his autopsy says he died of an irregular heartbeat secondary to clogged arteries.
Plaintiff Carol Ernst, Ernst's widow, and the coroner who performed the autopsy say a heart attack led to the fatal arrhythmia, but Ernst died too fast for his heart to show damage. Merck says because no studies link Vioxx to arrhythmia, the drug can't be responsible.
Gilmartin acknowledged under cross-examination by plaintiff's lawyer Mark Lanier that pending expiration of drug patents of big sellers like the antacid Pepcid were ''critical because you had to find something to replace the revenue stream, something else that would make money, right?"
''Something else that would help grow the company, right," Gilmartin replied, calling Vioxx a ''major driver" of that goal.