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July 16, 2009 3:24 PM

Ropes Getting Merck-Schering Defense Work?

Posted by Zach Lowe

Ropes & Gray may have a leg up on the firms competing over the white-collar defense work for the soon-to-be merged Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough. The firm advised the two companies in settling with 35 state attorneys general who had been investigating whether the two pharma giants intentionally delayed the release of trial results showing a cholesterol drug did not perform any better than an already-available generic, according to lawyers on the deal.

The companies agreed to pay $5.4 million to reimburse the 35 states and Washington, D.C., for costs associated with the investigation. They did not admit any wrongdoing, and no lawsuit was ever filed against them in the matter.

Ropes got involved in early 2008, shortly after Merck began releasing some of the results from a trial of Vytorin that concluded in May 2006, according to Brien O'Connor, a partner in Ropes' health care litigation group. The companies advertised Vytorin's effectiveness in direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns after they knew about the trial results, Reuters says.

The attorneys general conducted a "very thorough investigation," and Ropes attorneys collected documents, responded to requests and interviewed key company officials, O'Connor says. "The company was very cooperative," O'Connor says. 

Vytorin was a joint venture that combined Zetia, an anticholesterol drug the companies also manufactured jointly, with Merck's older Zocor drug, according to Reuters.

Ropes did work for both Merck and Schering-Plough before the companies agreed to a $41 billion merger in March (the deal is not yet closed). But the firm's most high-profile assignments were for Schering-Plough, including its lead role advising Schering on a $435 million settlement with federal authorities in 2006 over alleged marketing of drugs for off-label uses, according to this story from the New Jersey Law Journal, an Am Law Daily sibling publication. 

O'Connor declined to comment on the firm's relationship with the companies, other than to say Ropes has done work for both in the past. 

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