Merck to pay $5B

vioxMerck has agreed to settle the bulk of the Vioxx lawsuits it faces for $4.85 billion, potentially erasing one of the biggest question marks hanging over the company, officials said today. The Whitehouse Station drugmaker faces more than 27,000 cases in state and federal courts involving Vioxx, a painkiller it voluntarily pulled from the market in September 2004 after it was linked to elevated risks of heart attack and stroke.Merck had adopted a case-by-case defense strategy in the Vioxx litigation, a move that seemed ill-advised when a Texas jury hung a $253 million judgment on the company in the first case that went to trial.

Analyst estimates of its exposure had ranged from $4 billion to $30 billion, but the drugmaker won a dozen cases and only lost five in the past two years.

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