Global Processing

Merck expanding into biotech, emerging markets

December 10, 2008

The Associated Press reports that Merck & Co. is taking steps to become a leader in generic biotechnology drugs and sales in emerging markets, diversifying its research through partnerships and new technologies, and working to maximize long-term sales of key products. During its annual business briefing, Merck tried to reassure investors it has the right strategy to resume growing -- after recently announcing another major restructuring and forecasting lower profits and flat revenue in 2009 due to generic competition, the recession and other problems. Merck is launching a new division called Merck BioVentures to make both new and follow-on, or generic, biotech drugs, management told analysts gathered at its headquarters. Such generic biologic drugs, while starting to arrive in Europe, are not yet allowed in the U.S. -- but that''s likely to be a hot issue in Washington next year. The unit will utilize new science to speed up drug development, including glyco-engineering, a technology Merck got with a 2006 acquisition that allows rapidly making antibodies and other proteins for drugs in yeast, rather than the mammalian cells other companies use. Meanwhile, Merck said it is on track to reach its goal of $2 billion in sales from emerging markets including Brazil, China and India, countries where Merck''s vaccines and diabetes and HIV drugs match up with major health problems. The company is working to boost global sales of existing products even after they get generic competition, is focusing more on the needs of patients and doctors, and is expanding capacity to manufacture vaccines, Clark said. The company just applied for approval to use its HIV drug Isentress in new patients -- it''s now just approved for those who have failed on other drugs -- and still plans this year to seek approval for males to get Gardasil, its vaccine against cervical and other cancers. Approval of Gardasil in women aged 27 to 45 is pending. Merck next year will apply to sell three drugs in the U.S.: for migraines, acute heart failure and hardening of the arteries. There are also several promising compounds in late development -- including drugs for asthma, diabetes and osteoporosis and a vaccine to prevent costly, sometimes deadly staph infections.