Shareholders at Merck & Co and Schering-Plough have overwhelmingly given their support to the $41.1 billion merger of the two firms.

The New Jersey-based drugmakers say preliminary tabulation indicate that more than 99% of shares voted were in favour of the transaction. S-P chief executive Fred Hassan said the votes reflect the potential stockholders see “to create a strong global health care leader by combining these two companies".

He added that "after six years of transformation”, his firm “can be very proud of the strengths and diversity we have created”. S-P will continue to “focus on driving our business and advancing our strong late-stage pipeline until closing," Mr Hassan concluded.

The merger, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, is still subject to regulatory approvals. However the two firms are confident these will soon be forthcoming, especially as Merck has just agreed to sell its 50% stake to partner Sanofi-Aventis in the companies’ animal health joint venture Merial, banking $4 billion.

Vytorin, Zetia lawsuits settled
Last week, Merck and S-P agreed to pay $41.5 million to settle class action litigation related to the cholesterol drugs Vytorin (ezetimibe/simvastatin) and Zetia (ezetimibe). The deals were struck with consumer groups, insurers “and other entities, as well as with a separate group of independently-represented health plans”.

The companies noted that “the agreements are not an admission…of any misconduct or liability in connection with the marketing or sale of Vytorin or Zetia", or of plaintiffs' allegations about the safety and effectiveness of the treatments based on data from the controversial ENHANCE trial.

The settlement “will resolve all class action lawsuits seeking economic damages related to the purchase of Vytorin and Zetia”, Merck and S-P added.