WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Merck & Co.'s challenge to a shareholder lawsuit over Vioxx, a now off the market painkiller.

The pharmaceutical giant is accused of defrauding investors by concealing the risks posed by Vioxx, which was pulled from the market in 2004 because of the Cox 2-inhibitor drug's increased risks of heart attack and stroke.

The high court on Tuesday specifically said it would hear Merck's challenge to a federal appeals court's reinstatement of a class action securities lawsuit.

A U.S. district judge dismissed the lawsuit filed in November. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial judge and reinstated the lawsuits, prompting Merck to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a statement, Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck said the company is pleased the justices agreed to hear its appeal.

"We believe that the District Court in this case correctly held that the intense public discussion of data surrounding Vioxx," the statement said.

The company added that the evidence shows that Merck properly informed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the scientific community about scientific data related to the medication as it emerged.

In November, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits claiming that Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes in some patients.

The case is Merck v. Reynolds, 08-905.

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