Feds subpoena Merck in marketing probe

Merck has stumbled into one of the hidden traps of megamergers. The Department of Justice is probing the marketing of three drugs inherited from Schering-Plough, Merck disclosed to the SEC in a recent filing. The feds have issued a subpoena for information on Temodar, the brain cancer treatment, and two hepatitis C drugs, Peg-Intron and Intron-A.

The subpoena is part of "a federal health care investigation under criminal statutes," Merck said in the filing (as quoted by Reuters), and it covers information from January 2004 to the present. The company told the SEC it is cooperating with the probe.

Merck isn't alone, of course; government investigations continue to multiply as the feds crack down on off-label marketing, not to mention other potential violations. Just last month, the DoJ asked Cephalon for documents in a probe of potential off-label marketing of the leukemia drug Treanda; the company has already paid $375 million to settle a Provigil off-label marketing probe.

Soon after, Johnson & Johnson's Scios division agreed to $200,000 fine for a misdemeanor labeling violation, resolving a probe into its marketing of heart drug Natrecor. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca is dealing with a federal subpoena about its relationship with pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions, and Gilead Sciences has been asked for documents in a federal investigation of its manufacturing, quality control and distribution practices.

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