In 2016, Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside North America) reported worldwide sales of $4.7bn (€4.2bn) for its vaccines business.
This was down 8% year-on-year, and the sector’s contribution to the big pharma’s total revenues (12%) also dropped, but CEO Ken Frazier told investors at last week’s Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decision Conference he is “excited” by the pipeline and it remains a strong part of Merck’s business.
“I think if you look at how well Gardasil [Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine] was doing now with that launch of Gardasil 9, if you look at the work that we are doing early on with Moderna in terms of the RNA platform that we’re able to use there, we have a PCV [pneumococcal conjugate vaccine] vaccine in the pipeline, I am very excited about that.”
Merck and Moderna have a collaboration and license agreement focused on the discovery and development of messenger RNA-based (mRNA-based) vaccines, and last year Merck paid the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm $200m upfront o advance Novel a personalised cancer vaccines with its best-selling biologic Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
“That’s the kind of transaction where I think we can create value for our shareholders, because our scientists see something that they believe they can employ in the context of vaccine development down the line,” Frazier said on Friday.
Attracting and recruiting top talent
Merck is one of just a handful of players which control the vaccine industry, the others being GSK, Sanofi, and Pfizer. Recently Sanofi Pasteur warned of a lack of skilled workers in the vaccine space jeopardising future opportunities.
But Frazier said his firm was looking ahead to the future through scouting scientific talent both for its vaccine and other divisions.
“We are starting at the very early stages to recruit the next generation of scientific talent in San Francisco and in Cambridge and on new discovery hubs and I have just visited San Francisco a couple of weeks ago,” he said.
“And when you walk around the halls there, you have really tremendously talented young scientists who are eager to make their career at a place like Merck. And I know that’s a little long range, but at the end of the day, the quality of a company like Merck really ultimately hinges on our ability to recruit and retain the top scientific talents.”