At the Merck annual analyst day here in company headquarters in central New Jersey, the company revealed for the first tine what many on the Street had suspected: it has a so-called CETP inhibitor in the drug development pipeline. That's the same type of drug that Pfizerpulled the plug on last week because of an increased risk of death. But in a 2-month long clinical trial Merck says it saw no serious heart problems. Keep in mind that Pfizer's Independent Safety Date Monitoring Board did not see a problem with torcetrapib until patients used it for 18 to 20 months. Merck's head of R&D, Dr. Peter Kim, says the company is carefully reviewing the data and trying to decide its future plans for this drug.
Over the past couple of weeks we have done live interviews with the CEO of Lilly (at its analyst meeting last Thursday) and Pfizer (in the wake of the torcetrapib news). Since Dick Clark took over Merck last year he has done one interview with CNBC at last year's analyst meeting. This year Merck spokespeople say he will not be doing an interview with us. They are, however, making him available to two print reporters. Whatever the reason or internal company backstory, I think it is unfair to make him accessible to one news medium and not another. Either do all or none -- broadcast and print, not necessarily all reporters unless you're doing a news conference. With the exception of a BBC crew we are the only TV outlet here. Companies can and do offer "firsts" or "exclusives" to reporters. I have no problem with that especially when you're the one with the "get".
Finally, Merck says as of November 30th it faces more than 27,000 Vioxx lawsuits. Four cases are set to go to trial all at once in Atlantic City next month. And it is not giving up on its hoped-for Vioxx successor called Arcoxia. Merck expects an FDA decision on the painkiller by next April, but revealed today that an FDA advisory panel will examine the drug first.
Merck's headquarters is in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. It is a beautiful campus -- my producer, Ruth, saw a gaggle of loud, wild turkeys on the winding drive up to the Asian-inspired main building here this morning. Deer roam the area as well. Security is relatively tight, but thankfully nowhere near as bad as it was at Pfizer two weeks ago.
This is the fourth major drug company meeting in less than two weeks, and the last of the year. The next big one is Pfizer's financial-focused update on January 22nd.
Questions? Comments? PharmasMarket@cnbc.com