* Federal jury turns in unanimous verdict for Merck
* Earlier separate Fosamax trial resulted in mistrial
* Some 978 Fosamax cases against Merck have been filed
NEW YORK, May 5 (Reuters) - A federal jury in New York on Wednesday found that a woman who claimed she was harmed by Merck & Co’s (MRK.N) osteoporosis drug Fosamax did not suffer from a serious jaw condition linked to the medicine, handing Merck a victory, the drugmaker said.
The plaintiff, Louise Maley, an Indiana woman who used Fosamax for nearly eight years, claimed that she suffered osteonecrosis of the jaw -- a form of bone death associated with Fosamax and similar drugs -- and dental problems as a result of long-term use of the medicine.
The New York jury deliberated for only about half an hour before returning unanimous verdict in Merck’s favor by finding that the plaintiff did not suffer from osteonecrosis of the jaw as of March 31 2004.
Had the jury ruled in Maley’s favor on that first question it would then have taken up whether Fosamax caused the condition and whether Merck acted properly in its marketing of the product.
“Unfortunately, the plaintiff had multiple medical conditions that cause people to develop the jaw and dental problems she claims she has, regardless of whether they were taking Fosamax,” Merck attorney Christy Jones said in a statement.
As of Dec. 31, about 978 Fosamax cases, which include some 1,356 plaintiff groups, were pending against the company in either federal or state court, Merck said.
U.S. District Judge John Keenan, who is handling many of the Fosamax personal injury cases, in January refused a Merck motion to dismiss the Maley case, calling it one of the “bellwether” trials in nationwide litigation over the osteoporosis drug.
A previous Fosamax trial involving a different plaintiff resulted in a mistrial after an eight-person jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. That case is set to be retried next month, Merck said.
Fosamax is part of the bisphosphonate family of osteoporosis drugs that include Actonel, sold by Warner Chilcott WCRX.O, and Roche Holding AG’s ROG.VX Boniva.
The drugs are designed to prevent bone fractures and help offset bone loss associated with menopause.
Fosamax once generated about $3 billion in annual sales for Merck, but they have plunged since cheaper generic versions of the medicine became available in 2008. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)