Merck & Co has been advised that “it is a target” of a grand jury investigation related to its activities in connection with the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx.

The New Jersey-based company had previously disclosed the government’s probe, which has been ongoing since Vioxx (rofecoxib) was voluntarily withdrawn from the market in 2004 after a study showed that the drug doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke. However, Merck says that it received a letter last week from the US Attorney's office for the District of Massachusetts informing the firm that it is being targeted for a grand jury investigation.

Merck said it has responded and “will continue to respond to requests from the US Attorney’s Office for documents and information in connection with the ongoing investigation”. This is likely to involve subpoenas for witnesses to appear before the grand jury.

Merck was hit by tens of thousands of lawsuits and agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle personal injury claims from former Vioxx users who had suffered heart attacks and strokes. It is also being sued by a number of US states which are accusing the company of defrauding their Medicaid programmes through deceptive marketing of the COX-2 inhibitor.

S-P merger financing update
Meantime, Merck has also provided an update on its financing plans for the prospective $41.1 billion merger with Schering-Plough. The company and JPMorgan have completed “primary syndication” of $7 billion of new credit facilities with commitments from eight other banks – Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Citi, Credit Suisse, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander and UBS.

Merck added that it has secured commitments for the amendment of its existing $1.5 billion revolving credit facility to allow the latter to remain in place after the merger.