For Merck & Co., another courtroom defeat over its painkiller Vioxx would be a prescription for trouble.
The pharmaceutical company, whose fortunes soared partly on the strength of the drug's popularity, is awaiting the outcome of the second Vioxx product liability case to go to trial.
A jury is expected to decide this week whether the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company is liable for the heart attack suffered by Idaho postal worker Frederick "Mike" Humeston.
Closing arguments are scheduled for today, with jurors likely to get the case today or Tuesday.
Their decision carries high stakes for Merck, in part because the first product-liability trial over Vioxx ended with a $253-million verdict against the company.
About 7,000 Vioxx lawsuits have been filed; another loss could open the floodgates for more litigation.
"The more Merck loses, the more people will feel emboldened to file [lawsuits] against them," said Jason Napodano, pharmaceutical industry stock analyst for Zacks Investment Research. "We've already seen Merck lose the first case.... This case is even more important because the patient was not on Vioxx very long and the patient didn't die."
The drug, which has been linked to heart attacks and strokes after 18 months of use, was voluntarily withdrawn from the market in September 2004.