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Merck scraps combination diabetes drug

(Reuters) - Merck & Co no longer plans to develop a drug to treat type 2 diabetes that would have combined its largest selling diabetes drug, Januvia, with a generic version of Pfizer Inc's cholesterol drug Lipitor.

Merck, one of the country's largest drugmakers, said in a regulatory filing on Friday that it decided to stop clinical development of the program for business reasons.

The decision is not related to any concerns about the safety of the two drugs, according to Merck spokeswoman Pam Eisele.

According to the company's website, the drug, which was called MK-0431E, was in late-stage development.

Merck already sells Juvisync, a combination of Januvia with simvastatin, a member of the statin class of cholesterol fighters that include Lipitor. Merck sells simvastatin, which is almost as potent in cutting "bad" LDL cholesterol as Lipitor, under the brand name Zocor. Many other drugmakers sell generic forms of simvastatin.

Companies have been testing combination drugs as they look for ways to cut down on the number of medications that individuals use.

Merck shares were up 0.4 percent at $44.18 in early afternoon trading.

The company has estimated that 20 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes, an illness closely linked to obesity and the most common form of diabetes.

Sufferers of the disease often also have high cholesterol levels, which raise the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.

(Reporting By Caroline Humer; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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