Merck KGaA brings in a new R&D boss amid its global rethink

Merck KGaA, in the middle of a reformation plot in its biopharma division, has found a new head of drug R&D, moving on after its last research chief lasted just 6 months on the job.

Luciano Rossetti, a veteran of Merck KGaA's American sibling, will take the reins on July 21, managing the company's roughly $1.5 billion annual R&D budget as it works to get some promising mid-stage assets into Phase III. Rossetti's most recent role at Merck ($MRK) found him leading late-stage development as senior vice president, and his new employer notes that he played a key role in the development of the much-heralded anti PD-1 cancer drug pembrolizumab (MK-3475).

His predecessor, the ex-Bristol-Myers ($BMY) exec Annalisa Jenkins, took the job in October amid a broad restructuring that put former COO Belén Garijo at the head of the biopharma business. Jenkins, however, decided to leave in March, according to Merck KGaA, which provided few details.

Rossetti steps in on a drugmaker working to replenish its pipeline after a few costly late-stage missteps left it with a light list of Phase III candidates. To get there, Merck KGaA has repeatedly looked to dealmaking, this year forging agreements with MorphoSys, Mersana and Pfizer ($PFE) to bring in new assets. The company's oncology-heavy pipeline includes oncolytic vaccines, immunotherapies and a variety of kinase inhibitors, plus treatments for lupus, osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis.

And Rosetti's résumé with Merck--a storied drugmaker coming out the other end of a reorganization of its own--will help him lead the ongoing overhaul at its German counterpart, Garijo said.

"His breadth of experience and solid track record in both research as well as development together with his distinct leadership profile will be instrumental in driving the development of our promising pipeline to ensure that we will meet our strategic milestones and deliver innovative solutions for unmet medical needs to patients around the world," Garijo said in a statement.

- read the statement