Federal authorities are investigating whether major pharmaceutical firms are bribing foreign officials to try to win speedier drug approvals and boost their sales overseas, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The newspaper reported that companies including Merck & Co., AstraZeneca PLC, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and GlaxoSmithKline PLC  have recently disclosed that they are under investigation for possible violations of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The companies said they are cooperating with the government, with several adding that the investigation is industry-wide and not aimed at them specifically.

Some companies have disclosed receiving subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission, including SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co., and Baxter International Inc. also said it is under investigation. Officials for the SEC and the Justice Department declined to comment, and no company has been accused of any violations connected with the foreign bribery investigations.

According to letters from the government to one company, which the Journal did not identify, four types of potential violations are being examined. They are: bribing government-paid doctors to purchase drugs; paying company sales agents commissions to pass along to government doctors, paying hospital committees to approve drug purchases and paying regulators to help ensure drug approval.

The probe is focused on transactions in Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to unidentified sources who spoke with the Journal.

The investigation reflects the more aggressive action taken by U.S. and European officials in investigating foreign bribery cases in recent years. The industry has also come under tougher scrutiny for its business practices in the U.S., leading last year to two of the biggest criminal fines ever paid by a company, in connection with promoting drugs for uses that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.