Merck research head Kim leaving drugmaker; former executive at Merck, Amgen to take over

Merck & Co. said Thursday that it’s getting a new director of research and development, Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, a former research executive at Merck and at Amgen Inc.

Merck, the world’s third-biggest drugmaker by revenue, said Perlmutter will begin running Merck Research Laboratories on April 15.

He’ll succeed Peter S. Kim, 55, who’s overseen the labs since 2003. The two will work together initially, then Kim will serve as an adviser until leaving Merck on Aug. 1.

Steven Cragle, a spokesman for the Whitehouse Station, N.J., company, said the moves are part of long-term succession planning by CEO Kenneth C. Frazier and are unrelated to some recent failures of experimental drugs Merck had been testing.

Perlmutter, 60, served as executive vice-president and head of research and development at Amgen from January 2001 to February 2012. During that stretch, he oversaw development of several new pills and biologic drugs for cancer, endocrine and blood disorders, osteoporosis and inflammation.

Many of those areas are key ones for Merck, which has long been a leader in osteoporosis and cardiac medicines but has struggled in its efforts to develop biosimilar drugs. Those are medicines that are like, but not exactly identical to, biologic drugs, injected medicines that are produced in living cells rather than by mixing chemicals together, the way pills are made.

There are no biosimilar drugs approved in the U.S. yet, but they are expected to hit the market in the next several years. Because they will be somewhat cheaper than biologic drugs, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, patients and health plans are eager for that.

Perlmutter, who holds medical and doctoral degrees from Washington University in St. Louis, was a professor and chairman of the Department of Immunology at the University of Washington before coming to Merck in February 1997. He served there as a senior vice-president and then executive vice-president of basic research and preclinical development, or laboratory and animal testing. He then moved to Amgen.

Kim likewise was a professor early in his career, teaching biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Under his tenure at Merck, the company developed more than 20 new drugs and vaccines. Those include Victrelis for hepatitis C, type 2 diabetes pill Januvia, HIV drug Isentress and the Gardasil vaccine against sexually transmitted diseases.

“Peter always felt that he would have a third chapter in his professional life,” but hasn’t disclosed his plans, Cragle said.


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