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Merck expects big bills

Merck faces several burdensome years ahead as a scientist threatens to publish more damning research against its painkiller Vioxx.

It looks certain that Merck & Co faces several burdensome years ahead as it struggles to deal with a new threat from the scientist at the hub of the investigation of the safety of Vioxx, the company's recently withdrawn pain killer.

Dr David Graham, who works for US medicines regulators the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has threatened to publish research that suggests the number of American patients who had died, or were seriously injured as a result of taking Vioxx was grossly under estimated.

The new data, which is anticipated will be published in high-profile medical journal the Lancet, purports that as many as 139,000 US patients taking Vioxx may have died or suffered injury as a consequence. Before the re-evaluation of the data, Dr Graham's original estimation, in August, was that 28,000 people had been affected.

Should the Lancet publish the latest data -whereupon the FDA may execute its threat to dismiss Dr Graham, he said -it would fuel the ongoing dispute over the safety of COX-2 inhibitors that has so far sparked regulators to issue warnings pertaining to several medicines.

ìThe FDA has suppressed the paper and maligned me in the media butÖthe proper place for scientific information is in a peer-reviewed scientific journal,î Dr Graham told the Financial Times, stressing that he still intends to seek publication of the data.

The move would likely drive further litigation against Merck, which has already accelerated its money-saving restructuring plan to cut a further 700 jobs in a bid to save $3bn by 2008. The company, which upped its original target of 4,400 job losses to 5,100, is searching for a new chief executive to replace Raymond Gilmartin, who admitted recently that Vioxx' withdrawal had affected ìevery aspect of our businessî.

The firm has lost around 50 per cent of its market capitalisation due to the issues.

30th September 2008

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