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Germany's Merck halts supply of cancer drug to Greek hospitals

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German pharmaceuticals firm Merck KGaA is no longer delivering cancer drug Erbitux to Greek hospitals, a spokesman said on Saturday, the latest sign of how an economic and budget crisis is hurting frontline public services.

Drugmakers raised concerns with EU leaders earlier this year over supplies to the euro zone's crisis-hit southern half and Germany's Biotest in June was the first to stop shipments to Greece because of unpaid bills.

Publicly-owned hospitals in some countries worst hit by the euro zone debt crisis had been struggling to pay their bills, Merck's chief financial officer, Matthias Zachert, was quoted as saying by German paper Boersen-Zeitung in an interview on Saturday.

He said however that the only country where Merck had stopped deliveries was Greece.

"It only affects Greece, where we have been faced with many problems. It's just the one product," he told the paper.

A spokesman for the company told Reuters that the drug concerned was Erbitux and that ordinary Greeks can still purchase it from pharmacies.

Some countries have taken action to pay bills, such as in Spain, where the government has said it will help hospitals to pay off debts.

"That has improved things, even though the situation should still be regarded as critical for the coming years," Zachert said.

Erbitux is Merck's second best-selling prescription drug, bringing in sales of 855 million euros ($1.1 billion) in 2011 from treating bowel cancer and head and neck cancer. ($1 = 0.7785 euros)

(Reporting by Frank Siebelt and Victoria Bryan; editing by Patrick Graham)

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