When a recent report suggested that the drug Celebrex could cause heart problems, two things were certain: Pfizer's stock would fall and lawsuits would rise.

In what is believed to be the fourth class action lawsuit filed in the United States against Pfizer for its arthritis pain reliever, Celebrex, Granite City resident Patricia Morris filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court Dec. 29 seeking medical monitoring.

An identical suit against Pfizer's other COX-2 drug, Bextra, was also named in a separate class action suit filed Dec. 29 in Madison County. Mary Smith of Granite City, like Morris, seeks medical monitoring as a result of having taken Bextra. Smith's suit brings the number of class action suits against Pfizer in Madison County to six.

Morris and Smith do not seek to recover for personal injuries that they and class members may have sustained, but ask that Pfizer cover the costs of periodic medical examinations to detect and enable early treatment of injuries or diseases caused by Celebrex.

Morris was prescribed Celebrex by her doctor due to a painful joint condition.

"Before Celebrex was designed, formulated, marketed and sold, Pfizer was aware of the fact that Celebrex could have harmful effects on those who took the drug, including increased risks of heart dysfunction, heart attacks, and strokes," the complaint states.

Morris claims that Pfizer has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the design, formulation, and sale of Celebrex, including the duty to assure that the product does not cause users to suffer from unreasonable and dangerous side effects and symptoms.

"Pfizer negligently marketed Celebrex despite the fact that the risk and effect on the body were so unreasonably high and severe that no reasonable pharmaceutical company exercising care, would have done so," according to the complaint.

As a result of Pfizer's alleged negligence and conduct, Morris claims she and others have been exposed to an unreasonably hazardous substance, and as a result, suffer significantly increased risks of contracting a serious injury or latent disease.

Attorneys for Morris, Marker Armstrong of St. Louis and Davis Bethune & Jones of Kansas City, claim, "All consumers who purchased the prescription medication Celebrex in Illinois and who have not yet manifested physical injury" are eligible to join the class.

They also claim that common questions of law or fact include whether:

  • Pfizer knew or should have known the harmful effects of Celebrex before marketing it to the public;

  • Celebrex increased the risk of heart damage, heart function, or strokes;

  • Pfizer knew or should have known Celebrex increased the risk of heart damage, heart function, or strokes;

  • Pfizer is liable for damages and punitive damages;

  • There are diagnostic tests available that would be beneficial to the class in detecting cardiac problems due to Celebrex.

    Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998, Celebrex is a COX-2-specific inhibitor used for treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

    Celebrex is in the same category as Vioxx, which was recalled by its manufacturer, Merck & Co., on Sept. 30.

    Pfizer, which was conducting clinical trials as part of an effort to find a new application for the drug, said the increased risk was found in one of two long-term cancer prevention trials, while the other trial showed no increased risk.

    The National Cancer Institute, which was conducting the study for Pfizer, suspended the use of Celebrex after discovering that patients taking 400 to 800 milligrams of the drug daily had a two-and-a-half times greater risk of experiencing major heart problems than those who were taking a placebo.

    Smith's case has been assigned to Circuit Judge George Moran, Jr., and Morris' case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian.

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