Merck will gamble big on late-stage prospects

When Merck unveiled some impressive financial results earlier this week, the pharma giant provided a customarily hazy look at the work being done to meld its pipeline with the newly acquired experimental meds from Schering-Plough. Merck CEO Dick Clark hit on the expected high notes, emphasizing a relentless hunt for efficiencies, thousands of job cuts and a thorough review leading up to a prioritization of its efforts, and so on.

But while Pfizer has wasted no time in axing big segments of its post-merger R&D empire, Merck made it clear that it isn't afraid to spend more now if it can do a better job bringing more drugs to the marketplace. In fact, said CFO Peter Kellogg, in 2010 Merck might spend more than the combined $8 billion to $8.5 billion Merck and Schering-Plough devoted to R&D in 2009. And much of that investment is directed right at late-stage testing.

Chemistry World notes that Merck currently has 80,000 patients enrolled in clinical trials, and it expects to see that number swell to 100,000. "We believe that making these investments is the best way to drive shareholder value," says Kellogg. 

That message about higher R&D costs in 2010 won't satisfy all analysts, but more late-stage successes would leave Merck execs looking good.

- here's the article from Chemistry World