'New Merck' spotlights late-stage strategy but shelves biosimilar

Merck brought out its top guns at this morning's R&D meeting to make a bullish case for its late-stage prospects in the wake of a $41 billion mega-merger with Schering-Plough. Regulators in the U.S. and Europe are reviewing applications from Merck on four NMEs, and the Big Pharma company plans to file for five more approvals later in the year. Meanwhile there are 20 programs in late-stage development.

Up for approval this year is a new contraceptive, an extended-release version of the diabetes drug Janumet, the hep C drug boceprevir, a new sarcoma therapy, and a combo therapy matching the cholesterol drug Zocor with the diabetes drug Januvia.

Forbes' Matthew Herper noted that while other developers have been backing away from work on new heart drugs, Merck has been barreling ahead. And it's fixed much of its hopes on vorapaxar, a new drug obtained from Schering. While the risk of failure is high, writes Herper, success here would vault Merck into a prized position well ahead of the competition. 

Merck went to considerable lengths to tout its work in the biologics arena. The company has five biologics and two biosimilar programs under way, with plans to have five biosimilar programs in late-stage development by 2012. But then, in one terse sentence, the company revealed that it is shelving MK-2578, its PEGylated erythropoietin biosimilar candidate.

That sour note, though, was quickly smothered by an R&D display intent on impressing analysts.

"Today's Merck has excellent capabilities across pharmaceuticals, vaccines and biologics; a robust late-stage pipeline with the potential to sustain near- and long-term growth; a broader product portfolio and an expanded global footprint," said CEO Richard Clark. "The combination of these capabilities with our strategic vision and our people will enable us to achieve our goals."

- here's Merck's press release
- here's the report from Forbes
- check out the Bloomberg report