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BY DSN STAFF

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. Merck has extended its enrollment deadline for eligible claimants with cases filed or tolled by Nov. 9, 2007, that are wishing to be part of the deal to resolve state and federal Vioxx-related myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke claims to June 30.

Merck extended the deadlines to allow claimants and their counsel additional time to complete the enrollment process and for the claims administrator and for the company to continue to verify the completeness and compliance of enrollment materials received so far.

In 2007, Merck recorded a pretax charge of $4.85 billion, which represents the fixed amount to be paid by the company to settle qualifying claims.

As of March 31, the claims administrator reports more than 28,250 eligible MI claimants have initiated enrollment and more than 16,750 eligible IS claimants have initiated enrollment. These numbers do not include an additional 5,500 enrollees whose eligibility has yet to be determined.

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Walgreens pushes April sales up modestly, but early Easter, generics pressure results

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. An earlier-than-usual Easter sales season put a drag on sales at Walgreens’ more than 6,200 drug stores in April, with sales for the month rising 7.9 percent over the same month last year but same-store sales up an anemic 1.6 percent. Comp-store front-end sales actually declined by 3.1 percent, the company reported today.

Total sales were $8.45 billion in April, Walgreens said, with pharmacy sales up 10.8 percent for the month vs. last year, and comp-store pharmacy sales rising 4.2 percent. “Comparable pharmacy sales were negatively impacted by 3.7 percentage points due to generic drug introductions in the last 12 months,” Walgreens reported.

Total prescriptions filled at comparable stores increased 2.7 percent.

Overall, April sales were hurt by the fact that Easter fell in March this year compared with an April Easter in 2007, according to the company. A truer picture of Walgreens’ performance comes by combining sales for March and April, the company asserted, when sales rose 9.2 percent over the same two months in 2007. Comparable store sales for the March/April period rose 3.0 percent, while comparable store front-end sales for the combined months increased 4.0 percent.

“We remain cautious on Wag, as a weak macro environment may put pressure on sales and expense management,” noted retail analyst Deborah Weinswig of Citi Investment Research, a division of Citigroup Global Markets. Reacting to Walgreens’ April numbers in a May 2 report, she said that pressure on operating costs could also “potentially compromise service quality” at the nation’s top drug chain.

Besides the impact of an early Easter, Weinswig also cited pressure from the replacement of big-selling prescription drugs like Zyrtec with lower-priced generic and OTC versions. Those generics, she noted, “continue to negatively impact pharmacy sales.”

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Wal-Mart to cash stimulus checks for free

BY DSN STAFF

BENTONVILLE, Ark. With Wal-Mart’s motto of ‘Save Money. Live Better,” it’s no surprise that the retailer has announced new incentives to get shoppers to spend their stimulus checks at its stores. The company announced that it will cash the rebates for free—with no purchase required—and will offer shoppers new rollbacks on items such as shampoo, breakfast juice and cereal.

As an added incentive to get shoppers to spend their checks at Wal-Mart stores, the company said it will refund the purchase fee on its Wal-Mart MoneyCard when any portion of the economic stimulus check is loaded onto the card.

Additionally, Sam’s Club will cash checks for free for its members. It will also offer its own economic stimulus bonus in the form of a $40 gift of membership on select product purchases May 11 through May 31 so new members will save all year long.

“We’re looking at this through the eyes of our customers, who need low prices all the time,” said John Fleming, evp and chief merchandising officer of Wal-Mart Stores, U.S. “And that’s what we’ve always done best,” he added.

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