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Arthritis Drug Makers Clash Over Study Results

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By Deborah Cooper • • June 28, 2000

Two drug company giants Merck and Pharmacia, clashed over the results of rival studies of Vioxx and Celebrex, their popular arthritis pain drugs. Both sides claimed victory from the test results published last Thursday.

The findings, presented at a conference in France, gave the drugmakers armor in their battle to claim dominance of this lucrative drug market. Merck & Co., the maker of Vioxx, claimed its drug was better at reducing pain at night and during rest, compared to Pharmacia’s Celebrex. The rival company Pharmacia argued that there was no difference in pain reduction between the drugs. Pharmacia also asserted that the competing drug Vioxx increases the likelihood of high blood pressure and the condition edema, which often leads to swelling in the legs.

Merck also contended that Vioxx demonstrated significant pain-relieving effectiveness compared to paracetamol (a common ingredient in products such as Tylenol,) whereas Celebrex did not reflect this difference. Pharmacia countered with claims that their own study demonstrated significant increases in edema and blood pressure with use of Vioxx. The company also accused Merck of using selective measures of pain for its study.

Vioxx and Celebrex, are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), commonly known as Cox-2 inhibitors. NSAIDS relieve pain temporarily by blocking the body’s production of prostaglandins, chemicals associated with the pain and inflammation of injuries and immune reactions. Cox-2 inhibitors typically provide pain relief without the gastrointestinal side effects of other medications.

Last year, Celebrex reached $1.5 billion in sales and Vioxx, launched four months later, garnered $472 million. Both drugs are considered safer and easier to handle than some older arthritis medications such as aspirin.

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