Merck KGaA appoints new head of drug unit as Oschmann becomes deputy CEO

Merck KGaA announced Thursday that Belén Garijo, current CEO of the company's Serono unit, will assume responsibility for the whole pharmaceutical business, including biosimilars and consumer health. The appointment follows the promotion of Stefan Oschmann, current chief executive of the pharmaceutical unit, to the position of deputy CEO at Merck. The company noted that the changes will become effective January 1 next year.

Board chairman Johannes Baillou remarked that Garijo, who was appointed to her current position last year, "has many years of experience in the pharma industry, has proven that she can further develop our business organisation and in her future role will provide a significant contribution to ensure the sustainable success of our pharma businesses." The management changes come as Merck continues to implement its "Fit for 2018" transformation and growth programme at the Serono unit.

The company said Thursday that the plan "is well on track," reflected by progress with its pipeline and in the areas of immuno-oncology and biosimilars. "I'm happy that the realignment of our pharma business is taking hold and that we’re now in a position to demonstrate clear progress," commented Merck CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley.

Merck said that it is seeking a partner for its experimental anti-PD-L1 compound, which has been studied in more than 500 patients in Phase I trials and is seen as a potential treatment in lung, ovarian and Merkel cell skin cancer. "We have initiated a competitive process to select the best partner for the global co-development and co-commercialisation of our anti-PD-L1 compound," remarked Oschmann. "We are currently in advanced discussions with major oncology players and aim to reach an agreement by year-end," he added.

The company noted that it also plans to invest between 130 million euros ($167 million) and 150 million euros ($193 million) in 2015 on its biosimilar activities, in addition to the planned investment of 100 million euros ($129 million) this year. Merck said the investment depends on the outcome of ongoing Phase I studies. The drugmaker added that existing partnerships with Dr. Reddy’s and Bionovis will be boosted by a further undisclosed in-licensing agreement for a late-stage biosimilar candidate, initially for smaller emerging markets. Merck stated that between 2015 and 2016, it plans to initiate between two and five Phase III trials in this area.

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