Merck & Co regained a position among the world's leading pharmaceutical companies in 2010 after several years of struggles against lawsuits, patent expiries and other challenges. In a remarkable turnaround it was able to transform what appeared to be a clutch of minor vaccines into what are now substantial products, most notably the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil (sales of $3.9bn in 2020). In 2009, the group acquired smaller competitor Schering-Plough, already its partner in a global asthma and cholesterol joint venture. Several other smaller deals have followed, including developers Idenix and Cubist. A new addition in 2020 was VelosBio, a developer of oncology drugs. Merck's star product in recent years has been the cancer treatment Keytruda, an unexpected success inherited from Schering-Plough. Sales have soared on the back of strong test results across a number of forms of cancer. A further 30% increase lifted sales in 2020 to $14.4bn. It has eclipsed the rest of Merck's portfolio, not least former top-seller Januvia/Janumet, a diabetes franchise sales of which are in slow decline, falling to $5.3bn in 2020. Another blockbuster is the ProQuad MMR vaccine ($1.9bn). One gaping hole in its otherwise strong vaccine portfolio is product to fight Covid. Merck scrapped its main contender in that field in early 2021 after disappointing test results and instead agreed a manufacturing partnership with Johnson & Johnson to boost production of the latter's Covid vaccine. Other key drugs include Bridion, for acute care under anaesthesia in hospitals, with sales of $1.2bn and the Pneumovax vaccines, which topped $1bn in 2020. In 2014, Merck took the decision to exit OTC consumer healthcare, selling its sizeable portfolio to Bayer of Germany for $14.2bn. In 2020 it announced plans to spin off its women's health division, led by Nexplanon, as well as a portfolio of older established products and biosimilars as a separate company, under then name Organon. That separation took place in May 2021. Combined annual sales for Organon are around $7bn. However Merck retains a large animal health division, with sales of $4.7bn in 2020. Almost two-thirds of its sales are for livestock products, but its best-known product for companion animals is the flea treatment Bravecto. Outside North America, Merck & Co operates under the name Merck Sharp Dohme (or MSD) to avoid confusion with the German company Merck KGaA from which it originally descended. The two have been entirely separate since the First World War. Group revenues for 2020 were $48.0bn, but net income fell sharply to $7.1bn. Long-serving chairman & CEO Ken Frazier will retire in June 2021; Robert Davis, currently CFO, will succeed him.
Capsule checked 18th March 2021
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Historical profile information for Merck & Co
Adbrands Daily Update 27th May 2019: Merck expanded its oncology portfolio with a deal to acquire biotech developer Peloton Therapeutics for up to $2.2bn. It is paying $1bn upfront, with another $1.2bn to follow, depending on the results experienced by Peloton's current drug pipeline. Earlier this year, Merck also paid $300m for cancer vaccine developer Immune Design.
Adbrands Weekly Update 17th Aug 2017: In an otherwise quiet couple of weeks for corporate news, several major US companies have instead been wrestling with issues of diversity, race and gender. Business leaders yesterday moved to disband two White House advisory councils as a result of President Trump's inconsistent comments regarding a white supremacist rally in South Carolina where one left-wing protester was murdered and 19 others injured. Trump initially demurred on condemning the supremacists, saying instead that both sides were to blame for the violence. That prompted the immediate resignation of Merck's Kenneth Frazier, one of America's most senior African-American CEOs. "America's leaders must honour our fundamental values," he said, "by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal." Trump's typically ill-mannered response was to attack Frazier in two tweets about pharmaceutical pricing. That braggart reaction prompted the departure of two further members, Under Armor's Kevin Plank and Intel's Brian Krzanich. "I resigned because I want to make progress," said Krzanich, "while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them."
Trump attempted to calm the storm by voicing an explicit condemnation of the far-right (no doubt at the insistence of his more moderate advisers) only to change his position again the following day, and once again blame both sides for the violence. At the same time, he ramped up his attack on the departing CEOs who, he said, were "not taking their jobs seriously" and had resigned "out of embarrassment because they make their products outside" the US. That prompted the resignation of two further CEOs, Campbell Soup Company's Denise Morrison and 3M's Inge Thulin. The remaining members of both councils then took the decision to disband. Typically, Trump tried to save face by claiming the decision to disband was made by him. Shortly before the councils were disbanded, the New York Times asked why so few CEOs speak out against Trump, concluding that "privately, many chief executives say they are fuming, outraged by the president. But many are too scared to say anything publicly that could make them or their company a target of Mr Trump’s wrath."
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Aug 2016: Shares in drug developer Bristol-Myers Squibb plunged by 20% after it admitted that its lung cancer drug Opdivo had failed to meet several goals in clinical trials for new treatment areas. It will continue to market the drug as a standalone therapy and in combination with stablemate Yervoy, but growth prospects for Opdivo were scaled back from their previous highs. The setback delivered a huge boost to rival drug Keytruda, marketed by Merck & Co. The two drugs have been competing fiercely for leadership in several cancer treatment areas, with BMS hitherto considered the clear winner. For the first six months of 2016, Opdivo generated sales of $1.5bn, almost three times Keytruda's tally. This setback will level the playing field somewhat, with analysts predicting a surge for Keytruda at Opdivo's expense. These are both still giant drugs - analysts expect Opdivo's sales to peak at over $10bn by 2025 (down from previous estimates of over $13bn), while Keytruda estimates were lifted from $5bn to almost $8bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 31st Mar 2016: Interbrand confirmed Pfizer as the world's most valuable pharmaceutical brand in the branding agency's first ever specialised ranking of drug companies. Interbrand posited a valuation of just under $20bn for Pfizer, a wide lead over second-placed Roche of Switzerland at $15.5bn. Neck and neck at $13.9bn were Merck & Co and Johnson & Johnson's drug division Janssen. Novartis rounded out the top five ahead of Amgen and fast-growing Gilead, all between $13.4bn and $13.5bn. Novo Nordisk took 8th place, leaving British duo AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline to complete the top ten. Download the full report here.
Adbrands Weekly Update 10th Mar 2016: Pharma giants Merck & Co and Sanofi are to dissolve their 22-year-old European vaccines joint venture Sanofi Pasteur MSD. They will take back control of their own respective products, which include Gardasil (owned by Merck), Menactra and FluZone (both Sanofi). The split was prompted in part by GlaxoSmithKline's recent acquisition of the vaccines previously controlled by Novartis, which has allowed it to leapfrog both its rivals and become the new global #1.
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