Judges rule for Merck, against Glaxo/Biovail

We turn our gaze to the courtroom now, to find one drugmaker celebrating one new ruling--and two others slightly, er, depressed by another. On the happy side: Merck, which saw a New Jersey judge deny a request from former Vioxx users to sue the drugmaker as a group to recover their costs for the now-withdrawn drug. Judge Carol Higbee, who has handled many of the thousands of personal-injury suits filed against Merck, ruled that it would be "unfair" to Merck to certify a class, given that patients who took the drug took it for varying lengths of time and sometimes in combination with other painkillers, the Associated Press reports.

Merck said it was pleased with Higbee's ruling. Its outside counsel said that, because each plaintiff's circumstances varied, and because the safety information about Vioxx "changed over time," dealing with all the claims in one "massive" trial would be too complicated and unwieldy. As you know, Merck already has settled with more than 99 percent of eligible personal injury plaintiffs via its big $4.85 billion deal finalized last summer.

Now, for the less-happy drugmakers: GlaxoSmithKline and Biovail failed to persuade a Pennsylvania judge to dismiss claims that they conspired to maintain a monopoly over the U.S. market for Wellbutrin XL. "The plaintiffs have adequately alleged a conspiracy between GSK and Biovail," Judge Mary McLaughlin wrote in her ruling.

The suit was brought by direct purchasers of the extended-release form of Wellbutrin, an antidepressant. The plaintiffs claim that Glaxo and Biovail conspired to delay generic versions of the drug. They kept Wellbutrin prices high by making fraudulent assertions to the U.S. Patent Office and by pursuing "sham" patent litigation against generics makers, the plaintiffs allege. 

- see Merck's release
- read the AP story on Merck
- check out the American Law piece on Glaxo-Biovail