Merck says Vioxx claimants will soon get settlement checks

Ransdell Pierson of Reuters reported that Merck & Co (MRK.N) announced today that more than 97 percent of eligible U.S. claimants had elected to participate in its $4.85 billion proposed Vioxx settlement.

To be eligible for the proposed settlement, patients or their survivors had to have filed a Vioxx product liability lawsuit in the United States for alleged heart attacks, stroke or death or have signaled officially their intent to do so.

Vioxx had generated sales of $2.5 billion a year before the arthritis and chronic pain pill was withdrawn from U.S. drugstores almost four years ago after a Merck study showed that long-term users had twice the risk of heart attack and stroke.

A very large clinical trial of Vioxx conducted almost a decade ago showed the medicine caused about a fourfold higher risk of heart attack than the widely used painkiller naproxen.

Despite the results, the FDA allowed Vioxx to remain on the market. Then Merck heavily advertising the drug despite its knowledge of the risks.

Some good news is that many industry analysts feel the FDA has become far more careful about approving new medicines since Vioxx was taken off the market.