[JURIST] A group of seven federal judges will meet in Fort Myers, FL, Thursday to consider how to handle mounting lawsuits over the painkiller Vioxx [FDA overview; Merck information website], which was pulled from the market by manufacturer Merck & Co. [official website] after it was linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The company is already the subject of a federal investigation [JURIST report] over the painkiller. Documents filed at the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida [official website] show that lawsuits have been filed in 24 federal districts by 378 plaintiffs, and thousands of other plaintiffs may join a class action. Many of the plaintiffs are being represented by a Fort Myers firm, Viles & Beckman [official website]. Merck filed a motion last month to consolidate the cases because of common factual and legal issues. A decision is not expected Thursday and could take several weeks, while the first trial over Vioxx's alleged connection to heart attacks and strokes could come as early as May [AP report]. From Fort Myers, the News-Press has more.
2 PM ET - As many as 140,000 heart attacks in the US may have been caused by Vioxx before it was taken off the market, according to a study published today by Food and Drug Administration safety reviewer David Graham. The study [text, registration required], which could add to the momentum of litigation over the drug, appears in the British medical journal Lancet. Graham used the records of 1.4 million members of Kaiser Permanente, a non-profit insurer, to compare heart-attack rates for those taking Vioxx and other pain killers. From the results, Graham said he estimated that between 88,000 and 140,000 heart attacks had been caused by Vioxx. Bloomberg has more.