Closing arguments were held yesterday in the first trial against Merck concerning the osteoporosis drug Fosamax. Millions of women have taken Fosamax to counter bone loss associated with menopause. Unfortunately, many of those women developed a painful and debilitating condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). ONJ causing the jaw bone to literally deteriorate because the bone tissue dies. ONJ is a rare medical condition that dentists have explained to me used to be only briefly discussed in dental school because it was thought that dentists would never see it. But after Fosamax was approved by the FDA in 1995 and started being so widely prescribed, dentists started seeing ONJ more frequently.
In terms of numbers of cases, the Fosamax litigation is small, but the results are huge. A favorable outcome for plaintiffs, which will hopefully happen, could impact Merck’s impending merger with Shering-Plough.
ONJ is a terrrible condition and, through the course of this trial, the plaintiffs have put forth evidence that Merck was aware of the problems associated with Fosamax but continued heavily promoting the drug without any warnings or studies.15 million prescriptions for Fosamax were written in 2007. Fosamax had sales of $1.55 billion last year, and that was even with a 50% decrease from 2007.
It is reported that Merck has set aside $42 million to defend this litigation. I think that Merck should quit paying its lawyers and start paying the innocent victims. The women that are suffering from ONJ as a result of taking Fosamax deserve to be compensated by Merck. Let’s hope the jury gets this one right.