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Government pledge for Vioxx victims


The UK government has promised to pressure an American drugs firm for the hundreds of National Health Service (NHS) patients who suffered health problems after taking an arthritis drug to be awarded the same compensation as their US counterparts.

Merck, the manufacturers of anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, last year agreed to pay $4.85bn to settle legal claims in the United States that the pills caused users to suffer strokes and heart attacks.

But a New Jersey court had earlier ruled that UK victims would have to challenge Merck through the British courts – something lawyers say is impractical due to the costs involved.

Junior health minister Ivan Lewis said the government would contact Merck to make sure they “fulfil their responsibilities” to UK victims.

During Commons question time, Mr Lewis said there were a number of NHS victims who felt their lives had been “adversely affected, very seriously” by taking Vioxx.

He was responding to a question from Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb, who said it was an “outrage” that Merck was discriminating against UK victims who were in “exactly the same position” as those in the United States.

Mr Lewis also agreed to meet an all-party group of MPs to discuss the issue.

His comments came shortly after a group of Vioxx victims had attended Parliament to lobby their cause.

Vioxx was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after a long-term study found the risk of heart attacks and strokes was doubled if patients took it for 18 months.

Almost 500,000 patients in the UK were taking the drug when it was removed from sale.

Copyright © PA Business 2008

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