Vioxx - An Overview

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From 1999 until 2004, Vioxx was one of the most successful new prescription drugs in history, at least in terms of financial gain. Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant that developed and marketed it, made billions of dollars through millions of prescriptions. Between Vioxx and its chief competitor, Celebrex, millions of people gained relief from the pain associated with arthritis and other conditions, including acute pain and dysmenorrhoea.

Vioxx was the result of studies done in the early 1990s. Scientists discovered that there were two varieties of the COX enzyme. COX-1, as it came to be called, controls creation of the prostaglandins responsible for protecting the stomach lining. COX-2, on the other hand, targets the COX-2 enzyme that stimulates inflammation responses. Previously, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, attacked all the COXes, including the helpful COX-1s. As a result, these drugs often caused damage to the stomach lining.

Scientists reasoned that if they could make a drug that would only target COX-2, while not targeting COX-1, the drug would be effective against the pain and inflammation without damaging the stomach lining in the process. That is what Vioxx was designed to do, and it was largely effective. Some patients still reported stomach problems, but in general those side effects were not nearly as great as with other NSAIDs.

The problem is that COX-2 is not an entirely bad enzyme. Aside from creating pain and inflammation, it also helps prevent blood clotting. Some researchers believe that by taking Vioxx, which targets COX-2, patients are damaging their blood flow. As a result, blood clots, heart disease, strokes, and other complications may come from the usage of Vioxx. Other heart-related problems and kidney disease have also been reported. The Merck company disputed these claims, saying that when the drug was tested on animals, there was no effect on the blood's natural anti-clotting agents.

Major investigations were completed by reputable research organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic and The University of Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. The reports concluded that there were connections between Vioxx and an increased risk of cardiovascular complications, including blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. In 2004, Merck voluntarily issued a worldwide recall of Vioxx, taking it off the market. At the point of recall, an estimated two million patients in the United States were taking Vioxx, and many more were taking it throughout the world. In addition, it was estimated at the time that Vioxx had caused serious injury or death in approximately 27,000 patients.

Lawsuits began almost immediately after Merck issued the recall of Vioxx. When the recall was announced, many lawsuits were filed against the Merck company, both individual lawsuits and class action cases, seeking compensation for medical expenses, as well as pain, suffering, and mental anguish in conjunction with the serious affects of Vioxx. By pulling the drug off the market, Merck was perceived as conceding that the drug was harmful, which helped many plaintiffs make their cases. In 2005 a Texas woman filed and won the first lawsuit against Merck. The jury found the pharmaceutical company to have been negligent in the death of her husband; the company was ordered to pay the claimant $253.4 million in damages. Merck continued to fight the lawsuits, but the writing was on the wall and the damage was done. Vioxx turned into a costly disaster for the Merck company, and the question for the courts now is whether Merck should have been more diligent about testing Vioxx before marketing it, or whether the unfortunate side effects were in fact unforeseeable.

If you or a loved one were injured, or if a loved one died, as the result of taking prescribed Vioxx, it is highly recommended that you speak with an attorney. An attorney will determine whether or not the statute of limitations will to make a claim has passed. A lawyer will also review your case, including health records and testimony, to determine whether or not you can make a viable claim. If the statute of limitations has not passed and you can make a viable claim, your lawyer will help you pursue compensation for medical expenses associated with your injury, as well as for the pain and suffering you may have endured because of it.