US Justice Department, states investigate Merck & Co., Schering-Plough over Vytorin

In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Merck & Co. disclosed that the Department of Justice and 35 state attorneys general are investigating the drugmaker and marketing partner Schering-Plough over the promotion of Vytorin.

According to the filing, the Justice Department's civil division is probing the companies to determine whether their promotion of the cholesterol drug resulted in false claims being submitted to federal healthcare programmes. In addition, Merck stated that 35 state attorneys general are conducting a joint inquiry into whether the companies broke states' consumer protection laws while marketing the product. The group sent five "civil investigative demands" seeking information from Merck.

Commenting on the federal probe, WBB Securities' Steve Brozak remarked that "in a normal environment, this would not be a big deal." The analyst noted, however, that drugmakers are being increasingly scrutinised by lawmakers. "It doesn't mean anything today, but it can have a compounding effect that could mean something tomorrow," he said. Skip Irvine, a spokesperson for the joint venture between Merck and Schering-Plough, stated that "we take this matter very seriously. We're cooperating with the request for information that the Justice Department is seeking." Merck also indicated that it is cooperating with the other investigators.

Earlier this year, US lawmakers requested information regarding the drugmakers' marketing of the product.

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