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The New England Journal of Medicine published a correction June 26, 2006, saying that it does not take 18 months of Vioxx use to increase heart risk, but that heart risks could occur after as few as three months of use. The correction is expected to undermine Merck & Co.’s ability to defend itself against thousands of lawsuits.

Dr. Gregory D. Curfman , executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine , said the journal took the unusual step “to make it completely clear to our readers” that suggesting someone needs to take Vioxx at least 18 months before suffering heart risk “is, in fact, a misinterpretation of the data.”

Merck, in a written statement, said it “stands behind the original results” published by the journal in March 2005 . Yesterday’s correction came after the company itself pointed to a problem with its analysis, but does not change its conclusion or Merck’s decision to defend each Vioxx case individually, according to the statement.

To date, three of six juries hearing Vioxx cases have issued verdicts favoring Merck. The company lost multimillion-dollar jury awards in three other cases. Jurors in Los Angeles and Atlantic City are hearing Vioxx cases this week.

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