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Merck recently announced it is forming a new division, Merck BioVentures MBV, to make copycat versions of biotech drugs. In its immediate target zone are products such as Amgen's Aranesp, a long-acting treatment for anemia that Merck expects to launch in 2012.

This announcement is of interest to healthcare marketing researchers for two major reasons.  First, while the distinction between branded and generic products has for many years been black and white, the notion of a copycat biotech product, which is similar but not identical to the original, establishes a gray zone that will elicit opinions and procedures from stakeholders, including physicians, patients and payers. We will need to keep up with these perspectives and practices, which could reshape biotech.

Second, and probably of greater interest, this move supports a strategic direction by several historically branded pharma companies of taking major stakes in the generic space. In the near future, as several observers have noted, the distinction between branded and generic pharma companies will break down, with significant impact on healthcare, the industry and the marketing research we conduct. The Obama administration, with its intention of making it easier for companies to get generics approved, will further support this trend.  

The nature of the businesses we serve will change, from a world cleanly divided into brand name vs. generics into one where the division is far less clear. The issues we research will be more about science, business strategy and tactics and pricing, and less about the promotional efforts to which so much attention has historically been paid in the “marketing” of pharma products.

Richard Vanderveer is CEO of GfK Healthcare 
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