Cardiologist says Vioxx plaintiff had risk factors
A postal worker who blames Merck & Co Inc.‘s Vioxx painkiller for his heart attack was under work-related stress just prior to the 2001 attack, a cardiologist testifying for the drug company said on Tuesday.
Dr. Theodore Tyberg told jurors in the second Vioxx product liability trial that stress and pre-existing factors such as age, weight and a sedentary lifestyle—not Vioxx—likely led to Frederick “Mike” Humeston’s non-fatal heart attack.
“I believe it was a combination of chronic risk factors and I think it was triggered by an acutely stressful event in his life,” Tyberg testified in an Atlantic City, New Jersey courtroom, citing a review of Humeston’s medical records and work history.
Humeston, 60, of Boise Idaho, is suing Merck, contending the Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based drug company hid the risks of Vioxx for years in an effort to preserve its multibillion dollar sales.
Vioxx went on the market in 1999, but Merck withdrew the drug last year after studies linked it to increased heart risks in patients who took it for 18 months or longer.
The company says Vioxx did not cause Humeston’s heart attack. It says Humeston only took the painkiller on-and-off for two months to treat a knee injury he suffered during the Vietnam War.
Tyberg, a cardiologist for more than 25 years who testified as an expert witness, said records showed Humeston was involved in conflicts with his supervisors at the post office just before his heart attack on Sept. 18, 2001. Tyberg said he did not believe Vioxx played a role in the attack.
“There’s no significant evidence that Vioxx, when used intermittently for less than three months, predisposes anyone to a heart attack,” he said, under questioning by Merck lawyer Diane Sullivan.
The testimony was monitored via an Internet link provided by Court TV’s Web site.
Earlier in the trial, another cardiologist, Dr. Nicholas Depace, testified on behalf of Humeston that Vioxx likely was a triggering factor for the postal worker’s attack.
Merck is presenting its defense in the trial, after Humeston’s lawyers wrapped up their case earlier this month. The trial began Sept. 14.
The Humeston case is one of more than 5,000 Vioxx-related lawsuits facing Merck. In the first Vioxx trial, a Texas jury in August found Merck liable in the death of a Vioxx user and awarded the man’s widow $253 million—an amount expected to be sharply reduced under state caps on damage awards. The company is appealing the verdict.
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