Merck and Schering-Plough got out of 35 state investigations of the Enhance trial only $5.4 million poorer. The drugmakers agreed to pay the states' investigative costs--and that's it. No admission of fault, no other payments. Though this is only the first settlement in a raft of Enhance-related litigation, for Merck and Schering, it's a good start.
States attorneys general had been probing potential violations of consumer laws. At issue: the Enhance study, which showed that their combo drug Vytorin (Zocor plus Zetia) wasn't any better than the now-generic Zocor at unclogging arteries. That trial was released many months after data-collection ended--and months past the date most expected the results to be disclosed. And during that time period, Merck and Schering presumably sold more Vytorin than it would have otherwise, given the decline in sales since Enhance hit the news in January 2008.
But if the companies didn't drag out the release deliberately, intending to reap more from the pricey Vytorin, then there's no harm, no foul. That's what the settlement appears to be saying: That there's no evidence to prove that Merck or Schering intended to deceive patients. "Today's agreement is consistent with our belief that the companies conducted the Enhance trial in good faith and that their promotion of Vytorin and Zetia was in compliance with the law," Bruce N. Kuhlik, Merck's general counsel, said in a company statement. We'll have to wait and see whether other investigators and plaintiffs come to the same conclusion.