Merck Announces Plans To Withdraw Arthritis Medication Vioxx From Market Over Safety Concerns
Merck officials Thursday announced that they are pulling arthritis medication Vioxx from the market because new data from a clinical trial shows an increased risk of heart attack and stroke among patients taking the drug, the AP/New York Times reports (AP/New York Times, 9/30). The three-year trial -- designed to determine how effective a standard, 25 milligram dose of Vioxx is in preventing recurrence of potentially cancerous colorectal polyps -- found that patients taking the medication had an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes beginning after 18 months of treatment, compared with patients who took placebos.
The study follows a recent study finding that patients taking Vioxx were 50% more likely than those taking Pfizer's rival Celebrex treatment to experience heart attacks or sudden cardiac death (Reuters/Washington Post, 9/30).
Ray Gilmartin, Merck's president, chair and CEO, said the drug maker decided to withdraw Vioxx from the market because "we believe it best serves the interests of patients." He added, "Although we believe it would have been possible to continue to market Vioxx with labeling that would incorporate these new data, given the availability of alternative therapies and the questions raised by the data, we concluded that a voluntary withdrawal is the responsible course to take" (AP/New York Times, 9/30).
The drug had sales last year of $2.55 billion, although sales have "been flat in recent years amid ongoing safety concerns," Reuters/Post reports. When Vioxx was released in 1999, Merck expected the drug would help restore the company's earnings growth. Sena Lund, an analyst at Cathay Financial, said the product withdrawal is "a major blow for Merck" because the medication "was one of their five key drivers for future growth" (Reuters/Washington Post, 9/30).