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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
Merck considers Vioxx settlements
Vioxx tablets
Merck is facing thousands of lawsuits related to Vioxx
US pharmaceutical giant Merck has said it will consider settling a limited number of lawsuits over its scandal-hit arthritis painkiller Vioxx.

It was recently told to pay out $253m (141m) after a jury in Texas found the drug had contributed to a man's death and that the firm had been negligent.

Merck withdrew Vioxx last year after its own study said it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke.

The firm faces thousands of lawsuits, including at least 120 from Britain.

Individual cases

Merck spokesman Kent Jarrell said on Friday that the firm will look, primarily, at cases in which patients took the drug for 18 months or more with limited heart risk factors.

While Merck could decide to fight some cases, Mr Jarrell said "we could decide to settle" others.

"It's a long, long, road yet but we won't give up the fight no matter what
Christine Peckham

It marks a significant turnaround by Merck, as only on Wednesday the firm said it planned to fight each and every personal-injury lawsuit.

BBC correspondent Guto Harri said Merck appeared to be trying to create a precedent in an attempt to dissuade anyone without a "crystal clear case" from taking action.

A spokesman for MSB Solicitors in Liverpool, which is handling 120 Vioxx personal injury claims against Merck in the UK, and has received several hundred more inquiries, said the development was positive and encouraging.

Yet MSB added that cases from the UK still had "a long way to go".

Christine Peckham, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, took Vioxx to relieve arthritic pain and her case is expected be one of the first in the UK to be examined to see if the drug made her ill.

Britain's Legal Service Commission has decided not to fund any actions against Merck so the case is being fought in the US, where a no-win no-fee system would apply.

As a result of her use, Mrs Peckham, 53, claims to have suffered two strokes, which left her partially paralysed, visually impaired and epileptic.

She has welcomed the latest development.

"It's very good news," she told the BBC. "It's a long, long, road yet but we won't give up the fight no matter what."

Global drug

Merck has always maintained that it did its utmost to respond to the Vioxx safety concerns as soon as they arose.

It is still intending to appeal against the Texas court verdict, and will contest the next Vioxx trial due to begin in New Jersey next month.

Vioxx was sold in more than 80 countries, including Canada, Europe, Brazil, Australia and Israel.

Mark Lanier, the lawyer who won the Texas case, said he expected to see at least 50,000 personal injury claims against Merck in the US and thousands more overseas.

Shares in Merck have fallen sharply this week, as have those in other leading drugs firms such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as investors weigh up the possibility of other drugs companies facing similar liabilities in the future.

Hear from patients who have taken the drug

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