Merck and Schering-Plough will pay $41.5 million to settle class-action lawsuits filed by patients taking the cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia. It was alleged in the lawsuits that the companies purposefully delayed the release of study results showing the cholesterol treatments were no more effective than older, less expensive medications.
The suits claimed the drug makers violated state consumer protection laws by delaying unfavorable study results because they would hurt sales. Merck and Schering-Plough faced more than 140 class action lawsuits involving Vytorin. Marketed jointly by Merck and Schering-Plough, Vytorin is a composite of Schering-Plough’s Zetia and Merck’s Zocor, a statin now available as a low-priced generic.
The suits accused Merck and Schering-Plough of grossly overpricing Vytorin and covering up findings that the drug was no more effective than lower-priced generics. A study released in January 2008 by the companies showed that Vytorin is no more effective than the generic form of Zocor in reducing plaque buildup. Also, it’s only slightly more effective than the generic drug alone in reducing LDL – “bad cholesterol” – levels. The settlement follows a $5.4 million settlement last month with Attorneys General from 35 states and the District of Columbia who had made similar allegations.
The settlement came while Merck & Co. was in the process of buying Schering-Plough Corp. for $41.1 billion. That deal has now been approved by shareholders for the two companies.
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