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Pharm Settlement: Merck Settles Shareholder Suits

The drug company Merck & Co., maker of the much litigated drug Vioxx, has entered into a settlement of all shareholder suits over the company's actions related to that drug. Reuters news service reported on February 10 that Merck will pay up to $12.2 million in attorney's fees and make several changes to its corporate governance structure and code of conduct as part of the agreement.

According to Reuters, this settlement resolves all shareholder derivative litigation brought by owners of Merck & Co. stock. The shareholder suits were brought in addition and are unrelated to those personal injury suits from former Vioxx users who claimed the drug caused their heart attacks or strokes. Those suits were were settled by Merck in 2007, for about $4.85 billion.

Merck has agreed to several organizational changes under this settlement. Reuters reports that the company will create internal committees to address potential safety issues with its products, fill the position of chief medical officer and register its clinical trials with the government. "The company will adopt these measures, which supplement policies and procedures previously established by the company," Merck spokesman Ron Rogers said, noting that the settlement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing.

Although the settlement has been given preliminary approval by a New Jersey court, final approval must still be granted. A hearing on the final approval has been scheduled for March 22, in New Jersey Superior Court in Atlantic City.

Merck took its drug Vioxx off the market in 2004 after a study confirmed it increased the rate of heart attack and stroke in long-term users of the medicine.

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