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Firm's Vioxx probe clears Merck

Report: Management `acted with integrity'

NEW YORK -- Merck & Co.'s board said yesterday that a 20-month investigation funded by the pharmaceutical company found senior management acted responsibly in their development and marketing of the now withdrawn pain reliever Vioxx.

The 1,700-page report, which cost $21 million, contained minor criticisms but concluded that ``management acted with integrity and had legitimate reasons for making the decisions that it made, in light of the knowledge available at the time."

Merck pulled Vioxx off the market two years ago after a study found it doubled patients' risk of heart attacks and strokes. The company now faces more than 14,200 lawsuits. Merck has won four and lost four.

Merck's board established a special committee of six outside directors to investigate and hired John Martin, a former federal judge.

Martin acknowledged that some cynics might consider the report a whitewash but pointed to its heft as evidence of independence. He also said that the special committee would not have hesitated to take action against the company for misconduct.

More than 150 witnesses were interviewed, including outside scientists who disagreed with Merck conclusions.

Plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier called the report ``an absurd, expensive PR stunt" and wondered if anyone would consider ``a jury independent if I paid them $21 million."

Ted Mayer, who heads Merck's outside trial team, declined to speculate on whether lawyers would attempt to use the report at trial.

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