Merck wins fourth Vioxx case as two top execs depart

Merck emerged with a victory last week in its seventh Vioxx-related liability suit. The win, in a New Jersey state court in Atlantic City, brings the total number of wins to four. The plaintiff in the case, Elaine Doherty, a 68-year-old homemaker from Lawrenceville, NJ, argued that she took Vioxx for nearly three years and blamed the medicine for her heart attack. However the jury in the case ruled that Merck did not mislead doctors about Vioxx’s risk and benefits and that Vioxx was not to blame for Doherty’s suffering. “The company acted responsibly, the science was on our side, and the jury agreed,” said Jim Fitzpatrick of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, a member of Merck's defense team in the case. “Doherty would have suffered a heart attack whether she was taking Vioxx or not.  Before ever hearing of Vioxx, Doherty had multiple risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.” Meanwhile, a marketing management shakeup at Merck continues with the retirement of its president, intercontinental human health Per Wold-Olsen. Wold-Olsen has responsibility for the firm's prescription drug business in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Canada. His roles included SVP, worldwide drug marketing. Merck named Stefan Oschmann, another marketing executive, to assume some of his duties, including head of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Canada. He will report to Peter Loescher, Merck’s new president, global human health. The 30-year Merck veteran's retirement follows the resignation last week of Brad Sheares, formerly president of Merck US Human Health, after 20 years with the company. He was replaced by Adam Schechter, who joined Merck in 1988 as a sales representative and most recently ran its Vytorin partnership with Schering-Plough.