Merck and Ferring team up on anti-bleeding drug for the developing world

Alongside Swiss drugmaker Ferring and the World Health Organization, Merck ($MRK) is embarking on a multinational effort to develop an easily transportable treatment for excessive bleeding, hoping to curb global rates of postpartum hemorrhage among the world's poorest mothers.

The trio is working up a formulation of the bleeding-control drug carbetocin that can stay stable at room temperature. The hormone oxytocin has long been the standard of care for postbirth hemorrhage, but that drug requires sustained temperature control, which makes it nearly impossible to safely administer in the developing world, Merck said.

Merck and Ferring have advanced a temperature-flexible formulation of carbetocin, and WHO has signed on to run a 12-country, 29,000-patient trial to map out its safety and efficacy. If the drug comes through, Merck and Ferring have agreed to make it available in the developing world at an "affordable and sustainable public-sector price," the companies said.

Postpartum bleeding is the No. 1 cause of maternal death around the world, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier said, and the company's work in the field is part of a 10-year, $500 million effort called Merck for Mothers, through which the drugmaker hopes to advance life-saving therapies for women around the world.

Big Pharma has been repeatedly--and not unreasonably--chided for ignoring the scourges affecting the developing world in its R&D efforts, and, according to a 2013 Lancet study, of the 336 new chemical entities approved around the world from 2000 to 2011, only 1% were for neglected diseases.

But some of the industry's biggest players are working to reverse that trend, largely through public-private partnerships. In the fall, Sanofi ($SNY) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) have teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new thermostable vaccines, and, in 2012, 13 Big Pharmas including GSK, Novartis ($NVS) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) signed on for a $785 million effort to launch noncompetitive, pro bono R&D projects targeting neglected diseases.

- read Merck's statement