Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough have agreed to settle class-action lawsuits over their joint cholesterol drugs, Vytorin and Zetia, in the amount of $41.5 million. The settlements are with consumers as well as health plans that purchased the drugs.
The class-action lawsuits were not for personal injury damages, but rather for economic damages. The lawsuits alleged that, contrary to manufacturer marketing, the drugs provided no medical benefit over cheaper and generic competitors. The lawsuits came on the heels of a January 14, 2008 study (the Enhance Trial) which revealed that Vytorin was not more effective at reducing carotid artery plaque. In fact, the study was hotly investigated by lawmakers—it seems the drug companies concluded the study in April 2006 but continued to market their products inappropriately well after the data became available. Why let a little thing like drug effectiveness impede sales?
The plaintiffs in those cases sought to recover reimbursement for the cost of the prescriptions, or the difference between these drugs and the generic alternatives. Of course, compare the settlement to the annual sales of Vytorin since it was first marketed in 2004, which reached $5 billion per year. Granted, that is not all profit, and perhaps there was no bad behavior until January 2008, but it looks like the drug makers win again. It would be refreshing to see them divest all profits from the drug from the time they had data showing that it was basically useless.
Not going to happen.