Make your own luck

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This time last year we boldly saluted Merck as MM&M's first All-Star Company of the Year. It seems hard to imagine now but at the time the decision was viewed as courageous, and even a little contentious.

“Only a couple of years ago, analysts were saying last rites for Merck, as a plague of trial lawyers sized up their prey,” wrote Matthew Arnold in January 2007. “Investors were in a near-panic and company morale was in the dumps. The firm that had, more than any other, laid the foundations for the pharmaceutical industry seemed down for the count.”

But with a combination of five wave-making new products, and a resilient legal team that lost just three of the first 11 major Vioxx battles, Merck miraculously turned around its fortunes.

And now, 12 months on, the company hasn't looked back. In the past two years, Merck has won FDA approval for eight new products and, of these, five are first-in-class treatments or vaccines. So the decision to again name Merck as MM&M's Company of the Year was, this time around, a relatively easy call.

The question is, did the company simply “get lucky” with the timely fruition of big-ticket brands like Gardasil and Januvia—and the ensuing recovery of its reputation—or was there more method to the Merck miracle than meets the eye?

“There's luck,” says Wendy Yarno, Merck's chief marketing officer, global human health, in an exclusive interview with MM&M (page 40). “But then you make your own luck.” And Merck's recipe for luck involved shaking up the entire organization and more closely aligning the commercial and scientific sides of the company. “In the past, we didn't always have a strong alignment from the CEO down.”

So how does that translate into bringing products to market? Yarno explains: “It's listening very carefully to what the market tells us, executing well against the marketing plan, anticipating areas of concern, being nimble in responding to situations and taking advantage of opportunities.”
Case in point: Januvia. Development of Merck's type 2 diabetes treatment was originally some distance behind rival Novartis' vildagliptin (which would become Galvus). In 2005, in an attempt to close the gap and claim co-entrant status, freshly appointed CEO Dick Clark convened a silo-breaking cross-functional global commercialization team to work on every aspect of the drug's development. The team uncovered, and dealt with, certain subtle medical issues and concerns about the drug, and Januvia subsequently sailed through approval. Galvus did not.
“We did the work that allowed us to get to market sooner, and has now delayed our competitors for not doing the same thing,” says Yarno. You can read about this remarkable story in more depth on pages 40-47.

During 2008, we at MM&M will continue our efforts to raise the bar with the quality and relevance of our coverage, products and offerings. We will continue to develop content for the recently launched New Drug Dossier (our exclusive online resource combining clinical information and marketing insights for new drugs) and we will offer more printed supplements, web cast events and practical guides—all of which I hope will enable you to do your jobs even better.

Have a happy and prosperous New Year.

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