Vioxx played no role in Schwaller's death, med expert testifies

Ann Knef Mar. 19, 2007, 11:19am

A St. Louis cardiologist told Madison County jurors that Vioxx played "zero" role in the sudden heart attack death of 52-year-old Patricia Schwaller.

St. Louis University School of Medicine professor Jerome Cohen, M.D. said that "with reasonable scientific certainty" Schwaller's heart attack was due to years and decades of morbid obesity.

Madison County's first Vioxx trial is now in its third week. Frank Schwaller of Granite City sued Merck in 2005, alleging that Vioxx caused or significantly contributed to the death of his wife after she used the arthritis pain-reliever.

Schwaller claims Vioxx was defectively designed, inadequately tested, dangerous to human health, and lacked proper warnings, which subjected users to risks of heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses.

His attorneys have argued that Vioxx was rushed to the market because Merck was losing patents on six medications and that sales would slump if not for the introduction of a "blockbuster" drug.

Cohen, who also is director of preventive cardiology programs at St. Louis University Health Sciences Center, testified for Merck all day Monday.

He said Patricia Schwaller's risk of heart attack was "escalated" by as much as 473-fold because of a "conglomeration" of factors.

Schwaller struggled with her weight for the past 20 years where it ranged from 250-300 pounds, Merck attorney Dan Ball of St. Louis stated earlier in the trial. She was five-feet, two-inches tall.

She also had high blood pressure, diabetes, had high triglycerides, had a family history of heart disease and took medication for depression and stress.

Cohen's cross examination was delayed until Tuesday afternoon, following an early recess at 3:45 p.m. Monday.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday without Cohen because he has patients to see in the morning.

Cohen indicated he was being paid $600 per hour by Merck for his expertise, which has included reviewing data and helping defense attorneys prepare for trial. He said he has been hired by both plaintiffs and defendants in medical malpractice cases and provides lectures and seminars for medical education groups.

When asked if he would change his opinion so that it favored Merck, he responded, "Absolutely not."

"I call things as I see things," he said.

He refuted plaintiff's medical expert who testified earlier that Schwaller's risk factors played no role in her death.

He said his review of data showed that there is no scientific evidence that Vioxx increases risk of heart attack.

The trial is expected to wrap up later this week or early next week.

To date there have been close to 27,000 Vioxx product liability cases filed against Merck.

Jury results in about a dozen trials across the country have been mixed in favor of Merck and plaintiffs.

A New Jersey jury recently awarded $20 million to a plaintiff, finding that Vioxx caused the plaintiff's heart attack and that had the plaintiff's doctor known of the risks associated with Vioxx he would not have prescribed it to the plaintiff.

But earlier this month, a New Jersey Superior Court upheld a separate jury verdict that found Merck adequately warned physicians of the risks associated with Vioxx.

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