Tuesday, August 16, 2005

 

"The Defense Rests"

Angleton, TX—Dusk settled over the nation’s first Vioxx case today as the jurors heard the last of the evidence from the parties. After hearing no testimony whatsoever on Monday, the defense started today by resting its case, leaving plaintiffs to offer a short rebuttal witness, Dr. Lucchesi, plaintiffs’ expert pharmacologist. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. after which the parties along with the entire product liability legal community will wait with bated breath while a group of Brazoria County residents decides the fate of Merck & Co.

Lanier spent most of the morning questioning Dr. Lucchesi about blood clotting, which plaintiffs contend caused Bob Ernst’s death. At issue is when Merck learned about the potential mechanism through which Vioxx causes clotting problems. Dr. Lucchesi explained that as early as 1982 a Dr. Fitzgerald hypothesized that blocking the Cox-2 enzyme interferes with the body’s ability to control clotting through a chemical called prostacyclin. His theory is called the Fitzgerald Hypothesis. Merck argues that Vioxx, a Cox-2 specific inhibitor, was not potentially linked to clotting problems in the literature until at least 1997. Dr. Lucchesi testified that while a direct link between Cox-2 specific inhibitors like Vioxx may not have been drawn in the literature until 1997, the Fitzgerald Hypothesis was well known in the medical community well before then and established the link necessary to appreciate the link.

Dr. Lucchesi reiterated his opinions about why the coroner found no evidence of a clot during the autopsy of Mr. Ernst. He explained that during CPR, the compressions on Mr. Ernst’s chest might have dislodged the clot. Another explanation is that the body’s own enzymes may have dissolved or lysed the clot. And yet another explanation might be that smaller clots or microemboli, which can easily mobilize, created the blockage that caused Mr. Ernst’s death. On cross-examination, Dr. Lucchesi admitted that there is no evidence of CPR dislodging a clot, Mr. Ernst’s body lysing a clot, or microemboli in this case.

Merck’s attorney, David Kiernan, made much of the fact that Dr. Lucchesi is not a clinician who sees patients. As has been his style throughout this trial, Mr. Kiernan rapidly read a series of questions highlighting Dr. Lucchesi’s lack of experience in cardiology and pathology. While his initial questioning appeared to dilute Dr. Lucchesi’s opinions, as the questioning droned on, Dr. Lucchesi effectively responded that he was a researcher and not a clinician, and his opinions were based on his some 40 years of research.

Log onto www.firstvioxxtrial.blogspot.com tomorrow to read about the parties’ closing arguments in the nation’s first Vioxx trial.

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