Has anyone else noticed how under the radar the NJ trial of Humeston v Merck is with the national media so far? If it weren't for The Wall Street Journal online, and MSNBC there would be hardly any mention of this second major trial in the Vioxx litigation. Over the last week some important issues have surfaced as Attorney Chris Seeger presents his case against Merck in an attempt to show that the heart attack suffered by Mr. Humeston was a result of his taking Vioxx.
First, there was a serious attack on the credibiltiy of professor Benedict Lucchesi by Attorney Stephen D. Raber, of the law firm of Williams and Connolly of Washington, DC, who is part of the Merck defense team. He went so far as to insist that " You owe Merck an apology for the testimony he had given in which he contended that the company "put profits before patients" and that Merck executives "don't mind killing patients." Obviously inflamatory accusations and Attorney Raber went after them in trying to impeach the credibility of Professor Lucchesi. At the heart of this exchange was the issue of a series of internal Merck emails upon which the professor based his inflammatory comments during testimony last week. It was contended by our observers in the court that it was pretty much a draw between the two of them, with Dr. Lucchesi admiting he didn't read through all of the clinical studies Merck did on animals and humans prior to the approval of Vioxx, but also with Attorney Raber unable to shake him from his original contention that Vioxx clearly caused the heart attack of the plaintiff.
The next key day in the trial was Wednesday with David Anstice, president of Merck's human health division admiting that it was "really, really stupid" for the company to give the name of "Dodge" to the sales piece used to coach sales rep's on how to deflect doctors questions about Vioxx as regarding safety concerns. He further admitted, according to the account in The Wall Street Journal, that " It was a every poor name to give to this document." and that he first learned of it during the Vioxx trial in Houston during the summer. His interpretation was that while it might not have been the best term, ( no kidding) but that it was really just an education piece for doctors. My friend who witnessed this part of the trial said that Mr. Anstice came off as sincere, but in his words " sincerely corporately wrong" in their approach to misleading doctors about the truth of Vioxx. He said it was a bad day for Merck and a good day for the plaintiffs.
The third significant witness of the week was Professor Richard Kronmal, a statistical expert and professor at the University of Washington. His statistical analysis contended that Merck's scientists had data as early as April 2001 that indicated a 400% increase in the risk of death for Vioxx patients, but that because the study was centered on the effectiveness of Vioxx in treating Alzheimers patients, ( Ah the great second use of a product the drug company loves to find) Merck kept the trial going until 2003 even with the evidence of greater mortality.Attorney Diane Sullivan for Merck rebutted that the US FDA was provided the data from that study and told Merck not to stop the trial. Of the greatest releveance, however, was that Professor Kronmal further contended that his data showed that even Merck's own trials indicated that both short and long term use of Vioxx elevated cardio vascular events, which if true, is even more damaging then previously indicated. The best the defense could on that score was to wrap up on the point that Mr. Kronmal had been paid $70,000 by the plaintiffs to do his analysis on all of this data.
Of course, no word on what Attorney Sullivan is being paid by Merck to defend them against these charges or what Merck is paying it's experts.