The company, which is based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., and has major operations in Montgomery County, is the world's No. 3 drugmaker by revenue.
Merck's pipeline of experimental drugs includes what could be several important new medicines for patients and shareholders, company executives told analysts during a daylong business briefing at Merck headquarters, and Merck has eight new products for which it will seek U.S. approval in 2012 or 2013.
That's just in the nick of time. Merck, like its rivals, has been hurt by competition from generic versions of blockbuster osteoporosis, blood-pressure, and cholesterol drugs. Next August, its current top seller, the $5 billion-a-year allergy and asthma drug Singulair, gets hit by U.S. generic competition.
CEO Kenneth Frazier said the company hoped to keep 2012 revenue about the same as this year's. In this year's first nine months, it has increased sales by 5 percent, or nearly $2 billion, to about $35.8 billion.
Merck has gotten five drugs approved this year, including the breakthrough hepatitis C drug Victrelis and the first combination pill for people with both diabetes and high cholesterol, Juvisync. It also has applied to regulators for five more approvals. Those include a long-acting diabetes pill and a combination cholesterol drug.
Merck plans in 2012 and 2013 to seek U.S. approval for eight more medicines, including drugs for chronic insomnia, hardening of the arteries, osteoporosis, and reversal of anesthesia, plus two allergy medicines and an improved version of its blockbuster cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil. Altogether, it has 19 medicines in late-stage testing.
Many of those came from Merck's November 2009 acquisition of Schering-Plough Corp. Frazier said the integration had enabled the combined company to reduce costs by $2.8 billion. Merck has done that partly by eliminating 16,000 jobs out of the combined 106,000 the two companies had before the deal.