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Merck To Pay $321.6 Million Fine For Illegal Marketing Of Vioxx

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES A U.S. district court judge in Boston ordered Merck & Co. (MRK) to pay a $321.6 million criminal fine for its violation of a federal drug law in connection with its marketing of the former painkiller Vioxx. In December, Merck pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce. The company said it previously recorded a $950 million charge in October 2010 in anticipation of the settlement, which resolves a seven-year investigation. Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in 2004 after it was linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. "The government recognized Merck's full cooperation with its investigation and by putting this long-standing investigation to rest, we can more fully focus on discovering, developing and providing innovative medicines and vaccines that save and improve lives around the world," Merck said in a statement. In November, Merck had agreed to pay $950 million and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of marketing a misbranded drug, to resolve government allegations that the company illegally promoted Vioxx and deceived the government about the drug's safety. The government alleged that Merck promoted Vioxx for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis before that use was approved by regulators. A portion of the $950 million settlement also was to resolve parallel civil allegations that Merck made false and misleading statements about Vioxx's safety, causing government health programs to pay for the drug's use. Merck denied the civil allegations. Shares were off 14 cents to $38.26 in recent trading. The stock is up 1.5% since the start of the year. -By Nathalie Tadena, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3287;

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