Case | HBS Case Collection | April 2009

Merck: Managing Vioxx (A)

by Robert L. Simons, Kathryn Rosenberg and Natalie Kindred


This two-class case series allows students to stand in the shoes of CEO Ray Gilmartin during the unfolding stages of a reputational crisis. Merck's mission statement claims to "put patients first," but the company is widely criticized for putting profit before patient safety. The (A) case describes the discovery of Vioxx, a new arthritis drug, and asks students to calculate the drug's lifetime expected value. Supplements are handed out in class as the story unfolds: (B) evidence of life-threatening side effects, (C) decision options, (D) announcement to withdraw Vioxx, (E) reaction by patients, shareholders, media, and regulators, (F) Merck fights back, and (G) wrap-up. At the end of the case series, students may conclude that doing the right thing sometimes requires very hard choices.

Keywords: Ethics; Crisis Management; Reputation; Decision Choices and Conditions; Customers; Business or Company Management; Cost vs Benefits; Corporate Accountability; Business and Shareholder Relations; Business and Stakeholder Relations; Customer Focus and Relationships; Pharmaceutical Industry;


Simons, Robert L., Kathryn Rosenberg, and Natalie Kindred. "Merck: Managing Vioxx (A)." Harvard Business School Case 109-080, April 2009.