Johnson & Johnson has filed a request for arbitration to end its agreement between drug company Schering-Plough Corp. and J&J's Centocor subsidiary because of the pending merger between Schering-Plough and Merck & Co.

The distribution agreement relates to Remicade, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, and Simponi, a medicine for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Johnson & Johnson contends that the proposed merger with rival Merck nullifies the deal with Schering-Plough.

The maker of health-care products wants full rights to distribute the products outside the United States, where Schering-Plough currently distributes them.

Schering-Plough and Merck said today that they are confident an arbitrator will agree that the Merck/Schering-Plough merger does not give Johnson & Johnson the right to terminate the agreement. Centocor is based in Horsham.

The arbitration process is expected to take nine to 12 months. The Merck/Schering-Plough merger is expected to close in the fourth quarter.