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Merck shares fall in heavy trading

TRENTON, N.J. – Shares of drugmaker Merck & Co. slipped in extremely heavy trading Monday, three days after a Texas jury hit the company with a $253.4 million damage award in the first trial over withdrawn painkiller Vioxx.

While the award will likely be slashed on appeal, the news unsettled investors, cutting the stock’s price 3 percent in the first minute of trading. It also triggered new comparisons with past drug litigation and forecasts on the verdict’s effect on the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company.

Merck shares recovered to $27.89 late Monday, down 17 cents. Trading volume was extremely heavy, with nearly 29 million shares changing hands in the first two hours after the New York Stock Exchange opened. Normal daily volume for Merck is about 10 million shares. On Friday, after the verdict was announced, the shares lost 7.7 percent, or $5.2 billion, of their market value. Merck halted Vioxx sales last September after research showed the $5.2 billion-a-year drug doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke after 18 months of use.


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