Merck Says 44,000 Could Qualify for Vioxx Settlement

March 4, 2008

Merck & Co. on Monday said it has moved closer to resolving thousands of claims arising from its 2004 withdrawal of arthritis pill Vioxx, with 93 percent of people alleging the drug caused a heart attack or stroke submitting documents in a $4.85 billion settlement.

Of some 47,000 people who registered eligible injuries, about 44,000 submitted some or all of the documents that could qualify them for an interim payment in the program to resolve state and federal heart attack and stroke claims filed in the United States, Merck said.

Merck withdrew arthritis pill Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after research found it doubled heart attack and stroke risk in patients who took it for at least 18 months. More than 20 million people in the United States had used the drug, and the company was hit with tens of thousands of personal-injury lawsuits.

A November settlement agreement with people alleging injury from the drug calls for the company to meet an 85 percent threshold for receiving enrollment documents in various claims categories.

Meeting the threshold obligates Merck to pay $4.85 billion in installments into a resolution fund.

About 5,500 eligible heart attack and stroke claimants alleging death have initiated enrollment, and more than 26,500 eligible heart attack and stroke claimants alleging more than 12 months of use have initiated enrollment, Merck said. In addition, the eligibility of another 5,000 claimants who have sought to enroll has to be determined.

The company said it expects to meet all enrollment thresholds.

Merck recorded a fourth-quarter 2007 pretax charge of $4.85 billion to cover the cost of the agreement.

Shares of Merck were off 7 cents at $44.23 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Susan Kelly, editing by Mark Porter)

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