Medical Journal's article is a wild card in federal Vioxx retrial

Monday, February 6th 2006, 10:18 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A top medical journal's criticism of a study cited in Vioxx lawsuits is expected to play a part in the retrial of the first federal Vioxx lawsuit _ but it's not clear if it will be a legal hand grenade or a nuclear warhead.

Legal experts say the disclosure that some negative data was omitted from the study could make manufacturer Merck and Company look as if it's hiding something. That is what attorneys for Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, whose husband died after taking the drug for a month, say they can prove in the trial starting today in New Orleans.

The first federal trial -- held in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- ended with a deadlock. Two jurors said the split was 8-to-1 in favor of Merck's contention that taking Vioxx had nothing to do with the death of Richard ``Dickie'' Irvin.

The day those deliberations began, the New England Journal of Medicine published criticism -- one step short of retracting the study -- accusing its authors of withholding and deleting relevant data.

Northwestern University law professor Ronald Allen says the information alone is ``damaging although not shattering,'' but its implications could be devastating.

Vioxx was a two-and-a-half (b) billion dollar-a-year seller when Merck pulled it from the market in September 2004 because a study found that taking it for 18 months doubled the risk of heart attacks.