A day after completing the $41 billion takeover of Schering-Plough Corp., Merck & Co. Inc. chief executive officer Richard Clark reaffirmed yesterday that Montgomery County was an important base for the pharmaceutical giant and repeated that job cuts remained unlikely there.
When the two companies announced their merger in March, they said they would eliminate 16,000 jobs globally, about 15 percent of their combined workforce.
But Clark, who lives in Bucks County, said Merck's vaccine plant in West Point and its research and development facilities in nearby Upper Gwynedd Township were so crucial to the company's future that he was unlikely to trim any of the 12,000 jobs there.
Yesterday, Merck said Upper Gwynedd would serve as headquarters for the combined company's Global Human Health division and Merck Research Laboratories. The designation is largely symbolic because Montgomery County already houses those operations for Merck.
Clark held out the possibility that total jobs could increase in Montgomery County because of merger-related consolidation, but he said executives would take about six months to make those decisions.
Before deciding where to cut jobs, Clark said he wanted to look more closely at Merck and Schering-Plough sites and figure out which were pivotal to the company's future.
"We're focusing on science first, then sites and jobs," he said in a phone interview. "Doing it the other way seems backward to me."
Merck, whose corporate headquarters are in Whitehouse Station, N.J., has about $8 billion in cash and investments that it can use to buy other companies or license products. Already an active dealmaker, Merck may accelerate the pace of acquisitions and licensing, Clark said.
He mentioned the company's July agreement with Portola Pharmaceuticals Inc., of San Francisco, as the type of deal that interests him.
The two companies said they would collaborate on the development of betrixaban, a proposed oral anticoagulant for preventing strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation. Merck agreed to pay Portola an initial fee of $50 million for exclusive worldwide licensing of betrixaban and as much as $420 million more if certain milestones, such as regulatory approvals, are met.
In that deal, Merck also said it would assume all development and commercialization expenses, including the costs of completing late-stage studies.
The combination of Merck with Schering-Plough, based in Kenilworth, N.J., comes as Merck faces expiration of its patent on the asthma drug Singulair, which pulls in about $4.3 billion in yearly sales.
Merck and Schering-Plough already are partners in selling the cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin, which have hit turbulence over their efficacy and safety.
Merck's traditional strength in the cardiovascular arena, for example, fits well with Schering-Plough's promising treatment for blood clots, industry observers said. Also, Merck's HIV drug Isentress could complement a hepatitis C drug that Schering-Plough is developing.
Merck shares closed at $32.64 yesterday, up 6.42 percent for the day.