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These Are the Guys the White House Cut a Deal With?

Via The Wall Street Journal, here’s the inane argument being tried by Merck, the pharmaceutical giant that defended itself before the Supreme Court this week against investors suing over the company’s failure to concede the risks of Vioxx before 2004, when the popular arthritis drug was pulled from the market for its tendency to cause heart problems. Merck is claiming that the two-year statute of limitations for such suits expired before the investors filed them.

During an hourlong oral argument, Merck was in the unusual position of arguing that investors should have filed their lawsuits earlier because there was an overwhelming amount of public information available by late 2001 suggesting the possibility the company committed securities fraud. Merck, however, also argued that the investors don’t have enough evidence to make a case against the company.

Merrill Goozner, the great health care reporter behind GoozNews, provides a bit of historic context to the case.

What happened in 2001? Merck-funded researchers published the original clinical trial showing a fourfold increase in heart attack risk from the pain reliever. At the time, those results were explained away by Merck and the researchers with the suggestion that the comparison drug was cardioprotective.

In other words, the risks should have been known to investors even though Merck was denying those risks existed.

The absurdity wasn’t lost on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who told a Merck lawyer, “Companies can’t have it both ways.”

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