Merck denies heart attack claim

A US court has heard how pharmaceutical giant Merck knowingly concealed the risks of its arthritis drug Vioxx.

The allegation was made by a lawyer for Thomas Cona, 59, who blames his heart attack on the once popular treatment.

Being heard before a New Jersey judge, it is the latest of thousands of Vioxx cases due to go to court. Merck denies Vioxx caused Mr Cona’s attack.

Vioxx was pulled from sale in 2004 after trials showed it doubled the risk of heart attack after 18 months’ use.

Merck has so far won two Vioxx court cases and lost another.

Mr Cona’s case is being heard jointly with that of another former Vioxx user, 77-year-old John McDarby.

What makes their joint case significant is that they are the first former Vioxx users who allege to have taken the product for longer than 18 months.

Mr Cona’s lawyers say he took it for 22 months, while Mr McDarby’s say he took it for four years.

Merck says both men had other risk factors for heart disease and that Vioxx can’t be blamed.

In the case of Mr Cona it also questions whether he took the drug as long as he claims.

Mark Lanier, lawyer for Mr Cona, 59, said in the trial’s opening exchanges that Vioxx made people at risk from heart attack “walking time bombs”.

“They [Merck] decided to cut corners. That’s basically what this case is about.”

In August last year, a Texas state jury found the company liable for the death of a man, and Merck was ordered to pay out $253m (£141m).

Vioxx was prescribed to treat arthritis pain and was marketed as being easier on the stomach than alternative treatments.

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