Merck Drug Kingpin Departs

Wow... Two surprises in one day!

First was the announcement of a bill that would reform the FDA. This morning, Raymond V. Gilmartin has flamed out as Merck chairman, president and CEO, amid falling revenues, an escalating number of lawsuits and a slew of bad publicity. In his place, Merck will instead operate with a new three-person executive committee handling many of the former chairman's duties.

Although Merck board members dispelled any notion Gilmartin was forced out, I'm sure the company's fitful ride up and down the stock market (ranging from $25-49 a share over the past year) had a whole lot to do with it. And, many shareholders openly criticized Merck's negligent handling of Vioxx's hugely debatable safety at the company's annual meeting last week.

The other major concern for investors and Merck executives with Vioxx still off the market: Zocor, the company's best-selling statin drug, will lose its patent protection in the United States next year. I wouldn't feel too sorry for Merck, however, considering they've mined a brand new market in the U.K. for Zocor as an over-the-counter drug.

And that's not even taking into consideration a recent investigation by the Los Angeles Times that found Merck continued to supply vaccines contaminated with thimerosal for two years after announcing it had eliminated the toxin from the vaccine.

You may believe news like this is another nail in the coffin for the poor excuse that passes for conventional health care in this country, and you'd be right. But a ton of work remains ahead to truly begin retooling the state of health care from a drug-based, one-cure-fits-all model to one based on targeting the true causes of disease in earnest.

Yahoo News May 5, 2005

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