SAN FRANCISCO - Merck & Co. will start making payments next month to a $4.85 billion fund created to resolve claims of 50,000 people who say the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks, strokes, and other injuries.
Merck will pay its first installment of $500 million into the fund on Aug. 6, the company said yesterday.
The company established the fund last November as part of an agreement to settle claims by former Vioxx users or surviving family members.
The deal was negotiated between the Whitehouse Station, N.J., drug maker and a group representing 800 lawyers for the plaintiffs, said Casey Stavropoulos, a Merck spokeswoman.
Merck's action yesterday also extended until Oct. 30 the deadline for plaintiffs with pending lawsuits to enroll in the program and become eligible for payouts, the company said.
As part of the agreement establishing the fund, Merck established four categories of injury and said that 85 percent of former users in each group had to apply, prove their eligibility, and sign waivers that they wouldn't sue.
The categories include patients who died, those who suffered nonfatal heart attacks or strokes, and patients who took the drug for 12 months or longer.
Merck, which retained the right to walk away from the settlement if those thresholds weren't met, said in the statement it will waive that right on Aug. 4.
More than 97 percent of people eligible to make claims have enrolled in the settlement program, Merck said. Merck booked the program's $4.85 billion charge last year.