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Pharmaceutical giant to settle Canadian class action suit on Vioxx

Merck, the American based pharmaceutical giant, announced on January 19 it will settle class action suits in Canada connected to its controversial pain medication Vioxx.

The company’s announcement, which comes five years after the firm settled similar claims in the US with a payment of over $4.5 Billion, indicates Merck will pay between $21 and 36.8 million to a group of affected Canadians, estimated by Mike Peerless, a lawyer involved in the case, as ranging between one and two thousand patients.

But before the Canadian victims of Vioxx see any shares of the money Merck has agreed to pay, at least $10 million in fixed and legal costs will be deducted.

The drug, withdrawn from the world market in 2004, had been promoted as a new “super aspirin”. But critics maintain Merck did not move quickly enough to end its sales after studies in 2000 suggested use of the blockbuster drug, which was eventually taken by more that 20 million patients, created elevated risks of cardiovascular problems and death.

According to one estimate, over 55,000 deaths world wide were associated with Vioxx use. The drug generated huge revenues for Merck, which sold $2.5 billion worth of Vioxx each year until it was finally recalled.

In BC, the UBC based Therapeutics Initiative was credited with saving over 600 lives by issuing an early warning about Vioxx dangers.

"This agreement is structured to provide certainty and finality toward resolving Vioxx cases in Canada for a fixed amount," said Bruce N. Kuhlik, executive vice president and general counsel of Merck. "Under the agreement, there will be an orderly, documented and objective process to examine individual claims to determine qualification."

A company press release emphasized that Merck is not admitting any culpability in the case.

“Merck continues to believe that the evidence shows the company acted responsibly with Vioxx,” the statement says, “ from the careful study in clinical trials involving about 10,000 patients before its approval by regulatory authorities around the world, through the careful safety monitoring while Vioxx was on the market, right up through the decision to voluntarily withdraw the medicine in September 2004.

This agreement in Canada does not include any statement to the contrary and does not constitute any admission of liability.”

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net

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