ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- A jury hearing the case of two men who attribute their heart attacks to the painkiller Vioxx heard starkly different summaries of the evidence yesterday, with a
Merck's representative, Christy Jones, said pre-existing conditions caused the men to be stricken and said Merck was above board in testing the drug, publicizing the results, and responding appropriately when its problems surfaced.
''The fact is that each of these men was on a downhill slope," Jones told jurors during closing arguments,
But Mark Lanier, lawyer for plaintiff Thomas Cona, painted a different picture, tracing the lab-to-pharmacy history of the arthritis drug, which Merck pulled off the market in 2004 because of links to heart attacks and strokes.
In a 75-minute monologue accompanied by a slide show, Lanier called the story of the Vioxx franchise ''Desperate Executives," telling jurors Merck saw Vioxx as a potential sales dynamo that would help replace revenue lost when other drugs came off patent.
He broke up up the narrative by showing Vioxx television ads that made no mention of the drug's heart attack risks. ''On a life-or-death drug, the marketing should be as transparent as glass," Lanier said. ''But it was as murky as seawater."
Merck, which faces about 9,650 lawsuits over the drug, has won two trials and lost one. But some see the cases of Cona and John McDarby as a bellwether for future litigation, since both claim to have taken the drug for more than 18 months, the point at which Merck has acknowledged that risk of heart attack and stroke increases.