Merck & Co : advertising & marketing assignments

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Merck & Co regained a position among the world's leading pharmaceutical companies in 2010 after several years of struggles against multiple setbacks. The most serious of these were the repercussions from defects in its one-time blockbuster arthritis medicine Vioxx, which was alleged in the early 2000s to increase the risk of heart disease. As if that were not enough to contend with, the company's flagship product Zocor lost its patent in 2006, and Merck seemed to have comparatively few other blockbusters in its pipeline. Yet the company has made a dynamic recovery since then, turning what appeared to be a clutch of minor vaccines into what are now substantial products, most notably the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil (sales of $2.3bn in 2017). In 2009, Merck acquired smaller competitor Schering-Plough, already its partner in a global asthma and cholesterol joint venture. A few other smaller deals have followed, including developers Idenix and Cubist. Merck's top-selling product in 2017 was the diabetes franchise Januvia/Janument, though sales slipped year-on-year to $5.9bn. It has now been overtaken by cancer treatment Keytruda, an unexpected success inherited from Schering-Plough, sales of which will top $6.5bn in 2018 (from $3.8bn in 2017). Other blockbusters include the ProQuad MMR vaccine ($1.7bn) and Isentress ($1.2bn). Several other former high-flyers are in steep decline, including Schering-Plough cholesterol franchise Zetia/Vytorin ($2.1bn in 2017, but now patent-expired in several major markets), Zostavax, Remicade, and especially the hepatitis treatment Zepatier, a blockbuster in 2017, whose sales collapsed during 2018 as a result of competition on price. In 2014, Merck took the decision to exit OTC consumer healthcare, selling its sizeable portfolio to Bayer of Germany for $14.2bn. However it retains a large animal health division, with sales of almost $3.9bn in 2017. 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 2017 were $40.1bn. Ken Frazier is chairman & CEO.

Capsule checked 20th November 2018

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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.

Adbrands Weekly Update 10th Mar 2016: Direct to consumer ad expenditure for US prescription pharmaceuticals came close to record levels in 2015, according to estimates from Nielsen, reported by industry blog DTC Perspectives. Total spend reached $5.17bn last year, capping three years of gains since 2012's low of $3.4bn. The latest figure is close to eclipsing the record $5.4bn spent in 2006. A key factor is the increase in drugs with high selling prices, such as Gilead's Harvoni, a course of which costs as much as $100,000 a year. At that level, it doesn't take an excessive number of users to get a return on investment in marketing if its successfully builds demand. That in turn has prompted a backlash from physicians and insurers, who believe that marketing costs contributes to high pricing of many new launches. Harvoni was itself the year's 5th most advertised drug, behind Valeant's Xifaxan, Sanofi's Toujeo, Merck's Belsomra, and GSK's Breo Ellipta.

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