Merck loses 'bellwether' Fosamax case

A judge says Merck wasn't up front about the risks of its osteoporosis drug Fosamax.--Courtesy of NIH

You win some and you lose some and this time, Merck ($MRK) lost to the tune of $285,000 when a jury said it was not up front about the risks of osteoporosis drug Fosamax. And the sting of this loss was enhanced by the fact that it was a so-called bellwether case, the kind that lawyers and judges believe will influence the course of settlement talks.

The New York jury agreed that Merck had not done enough to warn patients about the chances that Fosamax could cause jawbone issues, Reuters reports. However, it nixed Rhoda Scheinberg's claim that the drug was a defective product.

As Reuters points out, there are about 4,000 Fosamax cases hanging fire, and out of the 7 that have been tried, Merck has prevailed in 5. Many of the cases pivot on claims that the osteoporosis drug caused patients' jawbones to deteriorate, and Merck didn't do all it could to warn those taking the drug. The company in 2005 added a warning about osteonecrosis of the jaw to the label of Fosamax, a drug that was reaping about $3 billion annually until it lost its patent in 2008. In this case, plaintiff Scheinberg told the jury Fosamax caused bone disease and kept her from healing after she had a tooth removed.

Merck, in a statement to the news service, pointed out that the verdict was split and renewed its position that it had done plenty to warn users of the potential risks. As for which way the bellwether case suggests the wind is blowing legally, the plaintiffs' lawyers acted as if it is evident.

"With this victory, this litigation has a renewed purpose and a renewed focus," said a statement from Tim O'Brien, a lawyer for Scheinberg and other plaintiffs in Fosamax cases. 

- read the Reuters story

Correction: The FiercePharma story initially stated Merck needed to pay $285 million as a result of the lawsuit, but the company needed to pay $285,000. We regret the error.