Merck Faces 100 New Fosamax Lawsuits, Lawyer Says
May 1 (Bloomberg) — Merck & Co., the third-largest U.S. drugmaker, faces as many as 100 new lawsuits claiming the company failed to warn that its osteoporosis drug Fosamax may cause irreversible jaw-rot, a patients’ lawyer said.
Merck is already facing more than 400 suits in U.S. federal and state courts alleging defects in the drug. Lawyers including Tim O’Brien, who represents Fosamax users in 30 cases, began filing the suits today in Manhattan federal court.
Patients who used Fosamax claim Merck misrepresented its safety, failing to warn doctors and patients that it may hamper blood flow to the jaw, causing jawbone-tissue death. The company last week said it reserved $60 million for future Fosamax litigation costs, up from $48 million. Patients’ lawyers are conducting a mass filing as a “wake-up call” to Merck, said O’Brien, of Pensacola, Florida.
“We wanted to let Merck know there are a lot more cases out there,” the lawyer said. The company’s reserve for this litigation is “way too low.”
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, has denied the allegations.
“There is no scientific evidence that Fosamax causes” jaw tissue death, Merck spokesman Ron Rogers said.
As of March 31, Merck faced about 465 Fosamax cases, including suits with multiple patients, the company said last month.
$3 Billion Sales
Merck had $3 billion in Fosamax sales in 2007. The drug’s sales are expected to fall to as little as $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion in 2008 because Fosamax lost patent protection in the U.S. and cheaper generic copies have become available.
Federal lawsuits have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan for evidence-gathering. Fosamax users asked Keenan to allow them to sue as a group, seeking to force the company to pay for medical monitoring. Keenan denied the request in January.
The plaintiffs claim Fosamax may cause irreversible bone loss in the jaw, leading to partial jaw removal in some patients.
“Merck knew that the longer you were on this drug, the higher the risk,” O’Brien said.
The lawsuits claim Merck’s product label doesn’t sufficiently warn of the risk of jawbone tissue death, a condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw, or ONJ.
“The risk of ONJ is listed in the precaution section and the post-marketing adverse event section in the product label as a very rare event,” Rogers said.
Merck rose 91 cents to $38.95 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
The lawsuits are combined in In Re Fosamax Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1789, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).