The rise and fall of the pain-killer Vioxx is one of the most remarkable marketing stories in pharmaceutical history. A true riches to rags tale, its events unfolded with lightning speed in an industry defined by lethargy.
On May 20, 1999, the Merck Company secured FDA approval of Vioxx for the management of acute pain in adults and for relief of the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis. From that date through August 2004, 105 million Vioxx prescriptions were filled in the US and an undetermined number were filled outside the US. In 2003 alone, Merck's worldwide Vioxx sales totaled $2.5 billion.
The fall happened even more quickly than the rise. In March 2000, Merck published a study raising the specter of cardiovascular problems associated with taking Vioxx. In November 2000, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study raising similar concerns. In February 2001, an FDA advisory panel became sufficiently concerned about the association of Vioxx and cardiovascular events that it advised the FDA to require a label warning about the possible link.