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October 17, 2006
Up Periscope And Fire All Bow Tubes
Merck had their DPP-IV inhibitor for diabetes approved by the FDA today, which is good news for them and for many diabetic patients. I'll defer discussion of the mechanism and the compound for now, though, because what I wanted to mention is how this illustrates Merck's business style.
The first compound of this type that most medicinal chemists heard about was from Novartis. They popped up as early as 1999 with the first of many publications on their compound class, and a lot of corresponding patent activity. Merck, for their part, stayed out of the spotlight. You had to watch the patent databases closely to get an idea of what they were up to, and they didn't really publish anything until 2004. Novartis, naturally, had plenty of motivation to keep up with the news and knew that Merck was in the hunt, but they were still surprised earlier this year when Merck filed for regulatory approval months before anyone thought that they were ready.
In some cases, you can get a reading on what Merck is up to when they break from their usual stealth mode. For example, some years ago they appeared with a big splash in Science, touting a small molecule that could actually affect the autophosphorylation of the insulin receptor. An oral competitor to insulin? The dawn of a new era? Nah - just an interesting failed project. The compound was going nowhere, and the only thing it was good for was to make a big noise in Science. The contrast with academic publication habits is noteworthy.
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