TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Merck & Co. could get an impressive six new prescription medicines approved in the U.S. this year and will soon apply for regulatory approval of two others, company executives said Tuesday during a briefing on Merck's business.
In addition, Merck is running late-stage patient tests of promising experimental drugs for HIV and hepatitis C, and it's aiming to be a leader in a hot new area of cancer research called immuno-oncology. Merck and several rivals are trying to develop drugs that fight cancer essentially by stimulating the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.
The news was overshadowed by the announcement that Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, has agreed to sell its consumer health business to Germany's Bayer AG for $14.2 billion. Merck's Claritin allergy pills, Coppertone sun-care line, and Dr. Scholl's foot-care products will join Bayer aspirin, plus Aleve pain reliever, Alka-Seltzer and One-A-Day vitamins.
Since January, Merck has been considering options for its consumer and animal health businesses, which bring in about 4.5 percent and 8 percent of Merck revenue, respectively. Both units saw sales decline in the first quarter. On Tuesday, Merck said it will continue exploring ways "to augment its animal health business."
"For the right assets that complement and extend our business, at the right price, we would be interested in buying assets" in animal health, CEO Kenneth Frazier told analysts and journalists gathered for the half-day presentation in Boston.
The Bayer deal will help Merck fund more research on its innovative — and more lucrative — prescription drugs. Focusing on science has long been Merck's mantra.
"The best way for us to drive value over the long term ... is through innovation," Frazier said. "That's why we must execute in our laboratories."