Merck trumpets loaded late-stage pipeline, big biosimilar R&D plans

With Wall Street demanding increased pipeline productivity from drug giants, Merck ($MRK) showed analysts and others exactly what investors are getting from one of the largest research budgets in the pharma world during an annual R&D day. The Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drug giant touted new programs and plans to seek 8 FDA approvals and U.S. market green lights for 5 new drugs from 2012 to 2013.

Merck doesn't want for Phase III programs, with 19 drugs in late-stage development for a range of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Specifically, the pharma group highlighted some key programs, including the potential big seller anacetrapib, which is a cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CTEP) inhibitor in Phase III for the treatment of hardening of the arteries which is clinically known as atherosclerosis, according to the firm's press release. Of course, the release didn't mention the two recent Complete Response Letters that Merck got from the FDA for a pair of late-stage programs.

The company also had some news on the Alzheimer's front, one of the most closely watched areas in drug development. The company spotlighted one of its newer molecules against the memory-stealing disease, MK-8931, which is an inhibitor of an enzyme known as BACE1 that is implicated in the amyloid plaques that are linked with progression of the illness, Xconomy reported. The drug is slated for testing in a mid-stage trial beginning next year.

Among drugmakers sniffing a big opportunity in making copycat versions of biologics, the big pharma fish reaffirmed its commitment to its biogenerics unit called Merck BioVentures, saying on Twitter this morning that more than 200 R&D workers are dedicated to the group. Merck has previously laid out plans for making generic Enbrel, one of the best-selling biologics in the world.

"Merck's strong late-stage pipeline has considerable potential," Peter Kim, head of Merck's R&D, said in a statement. "We continue to advance important, novel candidates both in our late-stage pipeline and in our earlier pipeline to deliver on our goals to provide patients with meaningful improvements over today's treatments and to help advance global health care."

- here's the release
- read Xconomy's article
- see the AP report

Special Report: Anacetrapib - 15 top blockbuster contenders