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August 19, 2005
A during-the-working day update, and I don't think I've ever done that for good news. Merck has been found liable in the first Vioxx trial. The jury has awarded 24 million dollars in outright damages, and $229 million in punitive damages. (If you'd like a strictly utilitarian, economic response to that award, start by pricing out what $253 million dollars of life insurance will cost - that is, if you can get anyone to not hang up the phone on you.) Merck, of course, is going to appeal.
It shouldn't be any surprise to find out that I think that this is terrible news. While I think Merck really pushed Vioxx too hard, as have the other companies with COX-2 inhibitors, I don't see a way to justify that large an award. This might open the door to a number of such awards, and Merck could end up spending its money fighting for its life rather than trying to bring new drugs to market. Enough of these losses, followed by losses on appeal, could sink the company completely.
I know, I know. They should have thought about that before flogging Vioxx to everyone that could bend their finger joints, right, right. But if every new drug we take to market is going to have a reasonable chance of ruining the company, why bother? And I know the answer to that one, too: "just make sure they're safe." What tiny words "sure" and "safe" are. You wouldn't think that they could cause the trouble that they do.
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