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Merck's Vioxx e-mail scrutinized
Report: Letters show company executives long aware of links between pain drug and heart risks.
November 1, 2004: 6:55 AM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Internal Merck & Co. e-mails and marketing materials show the drugmaker fought forcefully for years to keep safety concerns from destroying the sales of big-selling painkiller Vioxx, according to a published report.

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
Merck & Company Incorporated
Consumer Safety
Vioxx

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the e-mails seen by the paper show that Merck executives were worried in the mid-to-late 1990's that Vioxx would show greater heart risk than cheaper painkillers that were harsh on the stomach but were believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks. The company pulled Vioxx off the market in September, citing increased cardiac risk.

The paper said that several company officials discussed in e-mails how to design a study that would minimize the finding that Vioxx had a higher heart attack risk than the cheaper drugs, even though some of those writing the e-mails believed that damaging comparisons would be difficult to conceal.

The paper reported that, in a March 9, 2000 e-mail, Merck research chief Edward Scolnick stated the cardiovascular events "are clearly there" and called it a "shame." The paper said he compared Vioxx to other drugs with known side effects and wrote, "there is always a hazard."

Merck continued to deny any link between heart attacks and Vioxx up until the announcement that the drug was being pulled from the market.

Merck faces lawsuits by those who suffered heart attacks after taking the drug, as well as from family members. The e-mails and documents reviewed by the Journal could hurt the company in those suits.

A lawyer representing Merck told the Journal the internal e-mails and marketing materials were "taken out of context" and "do not accurately represent the conduct of Merck and its employees." But the paper said the company did not provide additional material to place the damaging e-mails in context, citing the pending litigation.

Shares of Merck (Research), a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, lost more than 1 percent in trading in Frankfurt following the early-morning report.  Top of page




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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.