New drug development at Merck Co // Drug Repurposing

New drug development at Merck Co

About nine months before Ken Frazier took over as chief executive of Merck in January 2011, he made a pilgrimage to see his old boss: P. Roy Vagelos. When Vagelos ran Merck it was the largest drug company on the planet, an innovative giant that created modern cholesterol drugs, blood pressure pills and the vaccine for chicken pox. He was a legend. Yet Vagelos says no top executive had bothered to make the 24-minute drive to his office since he retired in 1994. “I’m the last senior executive who was hired by Roy Vagelos, ” says Frazier. “It’s an honor, but it also imposes upon me an obligation not only to think about his legacy but also about this company’s legacy.”

They had stayed in touch–Frazier seems to be in touch with every exec who ever worked at Merck–and both describe a quiet conversation over sandwiches about strategy and the future of the drug industry. Underneath the calm, Vagelos was jazzed. “He’s one of the best, ” he says of Frazier. “His promotion to CEO a couple years ago was really good news, because I was not elated with the previous leadership.”

Merck, which has introduced more new medicines in the past 60 years than any other company, ranks only fifth in new drug approvals over the past 10. Since 2003 the stock has been a yo-yo, and, excluding the $41 billion purchase of Schering-Plough, sales growth has been stagnant. Merck lags almost all of its competitors over the past one, five and ten years in the amount of money returned to shareholders, including both stock appreciation and dividends. It has not launched a drug that has reached annual sales of more than $1 billion since 2007.

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Vioxx appeared to cause more heart attacks than another common pain-reliever in a study not because Vioxx was dangerous, but because the other drug, naproxen, helped protect the heart, a Merck & Co. Inc. scientist told a court on Wednesday.
Dr. Briggs Morrison, a member of Merck's Vioxx development team in the late 1990s, told the jury at the latest Vioxx product-liability trial that the study of some 8,000 patients published in 2000 did not indicate that the Merck drug increased the risk of heart attack, as critics have contended.
"The assumption was that Vioxx was neutral for cardiovascular events," Morrison told a jury in New Jersey Superior Court, under questioning from Merck attorney Mike Brock

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