Merck seeking partnerships, R&D president says

Merck is courting smaller biotechnology firms for new product collaborations, R&D president Peter Kim told the biotech industry this week. Kim billed Merck as a “cooperative partner” ready to work “openly” with firms making significant discoveries, during the well-attended luncheon portion of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s CEO and Investor Conference Tuesday at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The move comes as the company seeks to offset impending revenue declines to be felt from its parched pipeline, the looming June patent expiration of its top sales earner, the cholesterol-lowering Zocor, and ongoing Vioxx litigation. “Our goal is to pursue the best technologies from both internal and external collaborations,” Kim said. “Each of our employees is committed to identifying external opportunities for collaboration as part of their performance goals.” According to Kim, Merck had 5,000 “interactions” with other companies involving collaborations in 2005 and signed 44 deals as a result. Prior to Kim’s presentation, Merck distributed glossy color brochures to luncheon attendees with the title “Embracing Partnerships.” “We recognize that the greatest achievements are not reached alone. They are the result of teamwork,” read the booklet’s opening paragraph. During his presentation, Kim pointed to nine “high-priority” areas Merck is focused on—Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, novel vaccines, obesity, oncology, pain and sleep disorders. According to Kim, these therapeutic areas were carefully chosen based on a set of criteria including unmet medical needs, scientific opportunity and commercial opportunity. Kim said Merck continues to remain optimistic about the “positive impact” of collaborations throughout the pharmaceutical industry. “We want to change how large pharma thinks about its partnerships,” he explained.