March 15, 2009
Normally, I wouldn't use this column as a forum to comment on mergers or acquisitions. But the purchase of Schering- Plough by Merck is not only interesting for financial reasons in the middle of our collapsing economy.
Both companies have been very interesting to watch over the past few years, not least because of the combination product Vytorin (Merck's Zocor and Schering's Zetia), which came under fire as a result of one 2008 study that seemed to show that the combination wasn't more effective at preventing the buildup of plaque in the heart than was Zocor alone.
Merck has been hit over the past few years with public attacks, several of which were unfair or overblown. Issues have included possible cardiac risks with Vioxx, effectiveness of Vytorin, and questions about how the Gardisil vaccine for HPV was marketed. I believe that Merck may have received more negative attention over the Vytorin study than Schering-Plough, probably because of its higher profile. But Merck at least partially compensated for these difficulties with its new diabetes drug, Januvia, which has been a groundbreaking treatment, restoring faith in Merck's pipeline.
Januvia is well tolerated and has been very successful, and is more than 10% of Merck's entire revenue. In 2007, Merck sold $1.75 billion worth of Januvia and a combo pill Janumet. Januvia should help Merck to shake its reputation of producing too many “me-too” drugs. And joining with Schering-Plough should help that image too. At a time like this, it is good to see these two behemoths joining forces.
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear