All we ask is for people to be reasonable, and good to each other. There's no law against having a conscience and doing the right thing. Ethical business is good business. Being able to advertise yourself as such is a tremendous market advatage the way I see it. Whatever relatively rule free system rewards the good guys and leaves the bad guys behind is fine by me.
With avian flu knocking on our door, this is more than barroom debating about theoretical topics. The year 1918 saw the worst epidemic in world history - ever. It was a bird influenza that started in Kansas, spread amongst troops training for World War I, and killed millions around the world. Unlike other influenza strains, this didn't target the young and the elderly through a long course that ended with pneumonia. The virus itself caused the healthiest and strongest to react so violently against it that the immune system attacked the lung tissue. Within 24 hours, perfectly healthy young men would turn so dark from cyanosis that it was said you couldn't tell what race they were.
The only thing more shocking than the disease itself was the outright stupidity in the way it was handled. The United States was focused on a war that was consuming the world, and the nation needed to stay on task. The disease was minimized. Parades were held in cities like Philadelphia in spite of warnings by health experts. Within days, bodies accumulated in the city so rapidly that there was no reasonable means to dispose of them. This made New Orleans look like a party.
The disease spread so rapidly and affected the healthiest young men and women so selectively that it basically brought the German Army down to its knees. No other single event led to their surrender than did this virus that started in a Kansas chicken farm, mutated to a strain that could jump human to human, and spread around the world with ever increasing virulence.
It's only a matter of time before it happens again. The question is, how will we be able rapidly to respond with vaccines when we know they aren't risk free? With every treatment, there is a risk of disease and death. There is no excaping it. And the profit margins on a rapid vaccine development are slim to none even with no liability risk on the table. How can we as a nation respond with this nonsense looming in the background?
Slowly but surely, I see the nation waking up to the insanity of destroying one of our national assets. This victory today warms my heart. I hope it is one of many.
And may medicine evolve on with better and better treatments, better care, and better informed consent. And when perfect isn't possible, "good enough" should prevail. We need a healthy drug industry today capable of responding better and faster than anything we know right now. Maybe one day..
Merck Scores Major Victory
In the Second Vioxx Trial
By HEATHER WON TESORIERO, BARBARA MARTINEZ and PAUL DAVIES
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 3, 2005 11:01 a.m.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Merck & Co. emerged entirely unscathed from the second high-stakes trial over its Vioxx painkiller, marking a critical comeback from a big loss in the first trial and giving the drug giant some momentum as it faces a wave of lawsuits related to its former blockbuster.
A state court jury concluded that Merck fairly represented the safety risks of its Vioxx painkiller, and further found that the drug played no role in the heart attack of the 60-year-old plaintiff. In addition, it determined that Merck didn't commit consumer fraud, meaning that it fairly marketed the drug to doctors and patients.
The jury of three men and six women deliberated for a little more than a full day before delivering its sweeping exoneration of Merck. Frederick "Mike" Humeston had alleged that Merck had failed to warn the public about its safety concerns over Vioxx, which he claimed had caused his heart attack after he took the drug intermittently for two months.
The jury, which heard seven weeks of testimony, had to consider two charges: failure to warn and consumer fraud. In deciding against Mr. Humeston on the first question, it concluded that Merck either did not know that Vioxx carried cardiovascular risks at the time that Mr. Humeston was prescribed it in 2001, or that the company adequately warned physicians about those risks. It further determined that Vioxx was not a substantial factor in causing the heart attack.
In considering the claim of consumer fraud, the jury examined whether the company had misrepresented Vioxx's risks or otherwise used "unconscionable practices" in marketing the drug to physicians. It decided Merck had not done so.
"We're very pleased with the jury's verdict," said Jim Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Merck.
"This confirms our strategy" to fight each case individually based on the science. "I think the science is very clear that there is no short-term risk."
Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a long-term study showed the drug doubled risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. At its peak, Vioxx brought Merck about $2.5 billion in annual revenues.
Inside the Case
A cornerstone of Merck's defense has been that low-dose, short-term use of Vioxx wasn't found to cause heart attacks. Mr. Humeston said he took the painkiller intermittently for only two months. Unlike the central figure in the Texas trial, who died, Mr. Humeston survived and is back at work.
Mr. Humeston's lawyers and expert witnesses said the clinical studies gave warning signs about its risk and that the company failed to adequately investigate them before introducing Vioxx in 1999.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Vioxx as "safe and effective" for treating different types of pain four separate times over the years, the last time a month before Merck pulled it off the market, Merck has said.
Agreeing with Mr. Humeston's lawyers that the best evidence in the case was Mr. Humeston himself, Merck's defense tean insisted his physical condition -- he had elevated blood pressure, was overweight and was under stress from a dispute with his U.S. Postal Service bosses -- triggered the Sept. 18, 2001 heart attack, not Vioxx.
Mr. Humeston had been given a 30-pill Vioxx prescription in May 2001 but didn't use it all because he said it wasn't working for him. But he got a second prescription two months later. Mr. Humeston and his wife, who also testified, remembered that he had taken the last pills in the bottle the night he was stricken, but she couldn't remember when his last dose was when she was asked at the hospital later.
The judge overseeing thousands of federal lawsuits said that an effort by plaintiff's lawyers to keep their cases in state courts was "counterproductive" to his desire to eventually settle all claims. "There's a movement afoot to work outside" multidistrict litigation, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon told lawyers at a status conference. "I think that's counterproductive."
The first federal Vioxx trial opens Nov. 28 in Houston.
Plaintiffs' lawyers Mark Lanier of Houston and Perry Weitz of New York say they have assembled a legal "dream team" of 10 law firms and 350 lawyers to push all future Vioxx lawsuits into state courts. Federal courts are generally considered more defense friendly. Plaintiffs allege the company knew Vioxx was dangerous years before withdrawing the drug but downplayed those concerns to push sales.
After the Nov. 28 Vioxx trials, the next federal Vioxx trials will be in February, March and April next year.
--Darren McDermott contributed to this article