Merck’s Fosamax on Trial Again After First Case Halted

The second trial over claims Merck & Co. (MRK) hid risks that its Fosamax osteoporosis drug could cause femur fractures is scheduled to start next week after the plaintiff in the first case suffered a health problem.

The new trial, set to begin April 9 in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, is among more than 3,300 lawsuits alleging Fosamax caused broken legs. Another 1,230 cases allege users sustained jaw-related injuries, Merck has said.

The first femur-fracture trial, which started last month in state court in Atlantic City, New Jersey, ended in a mistrial after the plaintiff, Christina Su, had a “serious health complication” unrelated to her use of Fosamax, Merck said in a March 18 statement on its website.

The new trial comes about two months after Merck said it expected profit to decline this year because of generic competition to its top-selling Singulair and research setbacks that slowed efforts to get new drugs to market.

Fosamax, approved for sale in the U.S. in 1995, generated sales of as much $3 billion a year until patent protection lapsed in 2008 and it faced competition from generic rivals. The drug is often prescribed for osteoporosis in women and for cancer sufferers worried about fractures from weakened bones.

Karen Menzies, one of Su’s lawyers, told a New Jersey jury on the opening day of her trial that officials at Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, hid the risks that Fosamax could weaken bones and lead to fractures.

Extended Use

She said Merck researchers ignored signs that extended use of drugs known as bisphosphonates, including Fosamax, caused femurs to deteriorate in people such as Su, while officials disregarded safety risks and pushed the drug for women who weren’t suffering from osteoporosis.

Merck officials contend Fosamax didn’t cause the 67-year- old Su’s femur fracture and the company properly warned doctors and patients about the drug’s risks.

Christy Jones, a lawyer for Merck, told jurors that Su had no evidence to support claims the drugmaker turned a blind eye to Fosamax’s safety problems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration repeatedly approved the medicine as safe and effective for women worried about bone-density loss, Jones said.

Neither Jones nor Menzies returned calls today seeking comment on the mistrial or the new case.

The company has won five of the seven cases weighed by juries on the jaw claims. In February, a federal jury in New York ordered Merck to pay $285,000 to a woman who blamed the drug for her jawbone injuries.

During last month’s trial, Jones also said Su’s medical records showed her bones were strengthened by her Fosamax use and that she fell into the category of women who were at risk for “fragility fractures.” Jones said medical evidence would be presented to show Su “suffered the same kind of fracture” suffered by women who didn’t take Fosamax.

The case is Su v. Merck & Co., ATL-L-0789-11-MT, Superior Court of New Jersey (Atlantic City).

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net

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