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Merck's First Or Only Shot?

AP

This Friday Merck and Schering-Plough shareholders are set to vote on the mega-merger. When companies co-mingle it's standard operating procedure for heads to roll. So-called "cost-saving synergies" are a big reason why deals like this get done.

But this out-of-the-blue departure seems to have nothing to do with that.

The head of Merck's burgeoning, but somewhat beleaguered multi-billion dollar vaccines unit is calling it quits. Margie McGlynn is going to "retire" effective November 1st, Merck announced in an internal email last Friday. The company says McGlynn's leaving to pursue the ol' "personal and professional aspirations."

Sales of Merck's top vaccine for sexually transmitted disease and cervical cancer, Gardasil, have been falling. The company had serious manufacturing and supply issues with another vaccine for shingles. (By the way, MRK is even advertising that shot called "Zostavax" in today's issue of the tabloid "New York Post.")

But Dr. Tim Anderson, who covers big pharma at Sanford C. Bernstein, says this isn't just about the vaccine business. He put out a note to clients this morning titled, "Merck: Let The Management Shake-Up Begin!"

He writes, "Our understanding is that over the next coming weeks there could be a significant shake-up in the most senior ranks of the company, some of which could come as a surprise to investors." Hmm.

But when the dust settles Dr. Anderson thinks Merck could emerge better, stronger. "Our belief is that these moves are likely to ultimately enhance the value of the organization," he says.

Dr. Anderson doesn't attribute the intel to anyone but he adds, "MRK's current CEO, Dick Clark, will likely stay in his position, however."

Merck spokesperson Amy Rose says the company doesn't comment on analyst research notes. Someone who lives with a member of the Bernstein research team owns Merck stock. And a part of the firm owns at least one percent of the shares.

Separately, Dr. Anderson thinks the dispute between Merck/Schering-Plough and Johnson & Johnson over the mega-blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade gets settled. I'll be asking JNJ's Chairman and CEO Bill Weldon about that later today in my exclusive live interview with him between 2 and 3 p.m. ET today.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

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