Painkiller Vioxx Pulled From Market Alert

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Painkiller Vioxx® Pulled from Market Alert

Sept 30, 2004 -- Merck & Co announced today that it was pulling its popular arthritis and pain drug Vioxx (rofecoxib) from the worldwide market after a clinical trial showed that the drug carried an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.

The increased cardiovascular risk was discovered during a trial to evaluate the effect of Vioxx in preventing recurrence of colorectal polyps. After 18 months of treatment, the patients taking Vioxx were found to be at greater risk for heart attack and stroke compared with those taking a placebo. The trial is being stopped.

Vioxx is a COX-2 selective nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID). Other COX-2 selective NSAIDs on the market at this time are Celebrex (celecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib) NOTE: April 7, 2005, Pfizer agreed to suspend sales and marketing of Bextra in the U.S., pending further discussions with the with the FDA. For more information, please read the FDA press release. . Vioxx is also related to the nonselective NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

Comment: The FDA today stated: "The risk that an individual patient will suffer a heart attack or stroke related to Vioxx is very small. We encourage people taking Vioxx to contact their physician to discuss discontinuing use of Vioxx and alternative treatments. Any decision about which drug product to take to treat your symptoms should be made in consultation with your physician based on an assessment of your specific treatment needs."

The following is the public health advisory released today by the FDA and the press release today from Merck & Co.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com

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FDA Issues Public Health Advisory on Vioxx as its Manufacturer Voluntarily Withdraws the Product

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today acknowledged the voluntary withdrawal from the market of Vioxx (chemical name rofecoxib), a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID) manufactured by Merck & Co. FDA today also issued a Public Health Advisory to inform patients of this action and to advise them to consult with a physician about alternative medications.

Merck is withdrawing Vioxx from the market after the data safety monitoring board overseeing a long-term study of the drug recommended that the study be halted because of an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes, among study patients taking Vioxx compared to patients receiving placebo. The study was being done in patients at risk of developing recurrent colon polyps.

"Merck did the right thing by promptly reporting these findings to FDA and voluntarily withdrawing the product from the market," said Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford. "Although the risk that an individual patient would have a heart attack or stroke related to Vioxx is very small, the study that was halted suggests that, overall, patients taking the drug chronically face twice the risk of a heart attack compared to patients receiving a placebo."

Dr. Crawford added that FDA will closely monitor other drugs in this class for similar side effects. "All of the NSAID drugs have risks when taken chronically, especially of gastrointestinal bleeding, but also liver and kidney toxicity. They should only be used continuously under the supervision of a physician."

FDA approved Vioxx in 1999 for the reduction of pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis, as well as for acute pain in adults and for the treatment of menstrual pain. It was the second of a new kind of NSAID (Cox-2 selective) approved by FDA. Subsequently, FDA approved Vioxx to treat the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in adults and children.

At the time that Vioxx and other Cox-2 selective NSAIDs were approved, it was hoped that they would have a lower risk of gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding than other NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen). Vioxx is the only NSAID demonstrated to have a lower rate of these side effects.

Merck contacted FDA on September 27, 2004, to request a meeting and to advise the agency that the long-term study of Vioxx in patients at increased risk of colon polyps had been halted. Merck and FDA officials met the next day, September 28, and during that meeting the company informed FDA of its decision to remove Vioxx from the market voluntarily.

In June 2000, Merck submitted to FDA a safety study called VIGOR (Vioxx Gastrointestinal Outcomes Research) that found an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes, in patients taking Vioxx compared to patients taking naproxen. After reviewing the results of the VIGOR study and other available data from controlled clinical trials, FDA consulted with its Arthritis Advisory Committee in February 2001 regarding the clinical interpretation of this new safety information. In April 2002, FDA implemented labeling changes to reflect the findings from the VIGOR study. The labeling changes included information about the increase in risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke.

Recently other studies in patients taking Vioxx have also suggested an increased risk of cardiovascular events. FDA was in the process of carefully reviewing these results, to determine whether further labeling changes were warranted, when Merck informed the agency of the results of the new trial and its decision to withdraw Vioxx from the market.

Additional information about this withdrawal of Vioxx, as well as questions and answers for patients, is available online at http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/vioxx/default.htm.

Source: FDA News Release, P04-95, September 30, 2004


Merck Announces Voluntary Worldwide Withdrawal of VIOXX®

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J., Sept. 30, 2004 - Merck &. Co., Inc. today announced a voluntary worldwide withdrawal of VIOXX® (rofecoxib), its arthritis and acute pain medication. The company's decision, which is effective immediately, is based on new, three-year data from a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial, the APPROVe (Adenomatous Polyp Prevention on VIOXX) trial.

The trial, which is being stopped, was designed to evaluate the efficacy of VIOXX 25 mg in preventing recurrence of colorectal polyps in patients with a history of colorectal adenomas. In this study, there was an increased relative risk for confirmed cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, beginning after 18 months of treatment in the patients taking VIOXX compared to those taking placebo. The results for the first 18 months of the APPROVe study did not show any increased risk of confirmed cardiovascular events on VIOXX, and in this respect, are similar to the results of two placebo-controlled studies described in the current U.S. labeling for VIOXX.

"We are taking this action because we believe it best serves the interests of patients," said Raymond V. Gilmartin, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Merck. "Although we believe it would have been possible to continue to market VIOXX with labeling that would incorporate these new data, given the availability of alternative therapies, and the questions raised by the data, we concluded that a voluntary withdrawal is the responsible course to take."

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APPROVe was a multi-center, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study to determine the effect of 156 weeks (three years) of treatment with VIOXX on the recurrence of neoplastic polyps of the large bowel in patients with a history of colorectal adenoma. The trial enrolled 2,600 patients and compared VIOXX 25 mg to placebo. The trial began enrollment in 2000.

VIOXX was launched in the United States in 1999 and has been marketed in more than 80 countries. In some countries, the product is marketed under the trademark CEOXX. Worldwide sales of VIOXX in 2003 were $2.5 billion.

Results of the VIGOR (VIOXX Gastrointestinal Outcomes Research) study, released in March 2000, demonstrated that the risk of gastrointestinal toxicity with VIOXX was less than with naproxen, but indicated an increased risk of cardiovascular events versus naproxen. However, in other studies including Merck's Phase III studies that were the basis of regulatory approval of the product, there was not an increased risk of cardiovascular events with VIOXX compared with placebo or VIOXX compared with other non-naproxen non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Merck began long-term randomized clinical trials to provide an even more comprehensive picture of the cardiovascular safety profile of VIOXX.

"Merck has always believed that prospective, randomized, controlled clinical trials are the best way to evaluate the safety of medicines. APPROVe is precisely this type of study - and it has provided us with new data on the cardiovascular profile of VIOXX," said Peter S. Kim, Ph.D., president of Merck Research Laboratories. "While the cause of these results is uncertain at this time, they suggest an increased risk of confirmed cardiovascular events beginning after 18 months of continuous therapy. While we recognize that VIOXX benefited many patients, we believe this action is appropriate."

Merck has informed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and regulatory authorities in other countries of its decision. The company also is in the process of notifying health care practitioners in the United States and other countries where VIOXX is marketed. Patients who are currently taking VIOXX should contact their health care providers to discuss discontinuing use of VIOXX and possible alternative treatments. In addition, patients and health care professionals may obtain information from www.merck.com and www.vioxx.com, or may call (888) 36-VIOXX (1-888-368-4699).

The results of clinical studies with one molecule in a given class are not necessarily applicable to others in the class. Therefore, the clinical significance of the APPROVe trial, if any, for the long-term use of other drugs in this class, consisting of COX-2 specific inhibitors and NSAIDs, is unknown. The company will work with regulatory authorities in the 47 countries where ARCOXIA is approved to assess whether changes to the prescribing information for this class of drugs, including ARCOXIA, are warranted. Merck is continuing to seek approval for ARCOXIA in other countries, including the United States.

Merck will continue its extensive clinical program to collect additional longer-term data for ARCOXIA, its medication for arthritis and acute pain.

Source: Merck press release, September 30, 2004


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Reviewed on 9/30/2004

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