Merck & Co. has settled the shareholder lawsuits that were filed against the company over Vioxx. Under the settlement terms Merck must appoint a chief medical officer – already named in December – and two independent committees to ensure all risks of medicines on sale or in development are promptly disclosed and addressed. Merck will have to report on drugs the company is testing – including all study results – on the federal clinical trials registry, on its own Web site and in major medical journals. The goal of the settlement is for safety issues to become public faster. That’s a worthy goal and one that in theory should be good for consumers and for public safety.
Hopefully, the new requirements for honesty and openness will prevent another scandal like the Vioxx debacle, which certainly tarnished Merck’s reputation. Executives at the drug manufacturer deliberately hid the painkiller’s risks in order to protect sales – and ultimately that cost shareholders billions, as well as creating severe health safety risks. We all know now about the massive number of heart attacks and strokes that occurred. The proposed settlement must be approved by a New Jersey judge at a hearing set for March 22nd, after which Merck must quickly implement the provisions. I am reasonably sure that the court will make sure the settlement is a good one and that shareholders are really benefiting from the settlement.
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