At a glance - MSD prepares itself for UK lawsuits overVioxx

We're taking about the Vioxx withdrawal fallout, aren't we?

Indeed. Lawyers are looking at the possibility of lawsuits in US courts on behalf of UK residents who took arthritis and acute pain product Vioxx.

It is believed that almost 300 British claimants are to say the drug has led to subsequent illness.

What has prompted this?

The reports come after the widow of a US man who died having taking the drug was awarded compensation of £141m in a Texas court. The successful suit was against Vioxx manufacturer Merck & Co, US-based parent company of Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD).

What PR is MSD undertaking in the UK on the issue? This must be causing all sorts of crisis comms headaches ...

An MSD spokesperson asserts there is no UK PR programme in place to address stakeholder concerns over Vioxx, or the potential lawsuits, adding: 'This is something that touches us in every country, but it is fair to say the focus is on the US. We have not been notified of any lawsuits in the UK.' Galliard Healthcare Communications handled UK comms for Vioxx until the drug's suspension last year.

But hasn't Merck just hired Burson-Marsteller?

Yes, the US company has taken on B-M to help work on its reputation (PRWeek, 19 August), although the company insists that the idea for the campaign was mooted before the Vioxx crisis kicked off last year. Shares in Merck fell nearly nine per cent following the Texas verdict, and the share price has fallen about a third since Vioxx was withdrawn. The company plans to appeal, saying it will fight each case and denies it has done anything wrong. There are more than 4,000 lawsuits pending in the US.

Is Vioxx still on the market?

No. It was withdrawn worldwide last October, after a three-year trial prompted fears of heart disease and strokes in patients after use beyond 18 months. It was prescribed to 400,000 patients in the UK and 20 million worldwide.

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