U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck announced on Monday that it plans to acquire rival company Schering-Plough in a deal worth $41.1 billion. This could help Merck expand its market overseas at a critical time for mega pharmaceutical companies.
The New Jersey-based drug companies announced they will combine under Merck's name in a deal financed through cash and stock. Under the agreement, Schering-Plough shareholders will receive $10.50 in cash and a little more than half a Merck share for each of their existing shares.
Merck Chief Executive Officer Richard Clark, who will lead the new company, says shareholders will benefit from its more efficient operating structure and expanded research.
"The combined strength of Merck and Schering-Plough will create a company that can deliver consistent, sustainable growth and meaningful value for shareholders," he said.
The merger comes six weeks after Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, acquired rival Wyeth for $68 billion. Both Merck and Pfizer are facing the expiration of patents on several of their best-selling drugs and seek to diversify their portfolios.
Schering-Plough generates 70 percent of its sales outside of the United States, including more than $2 billion a year from emerging markets. Clark says the merger will accelerate Merck's effort to develop its presence abroad. With the merger, Clark says more than 50 percent of their combined revenue will be generated overseas.
Chairman of Schering-Plough, Fred Hassan, says the merger will help both companies during the economic downturn.
"The stunning and accelerating changes in the global macro environment are driving stunning and accelerating changes in our own industry's environment," he said. "Our board concluded that this was the right transaction at the right time."
Yet analysts say the Merk and Pfizer mergers may signal a broader shift among pharmaceutical companies to protect themselves from a harsher economic climate and the increasing competitiveness of generic drugs.
Professor at the University of North Carolina Pharmacy School Fred Eckel says while Merck will reduce its overall cost of operation, it does not mean it will instantly come out with new top-selling drugs to replace its old ones.
"If you look at the number of new drug entities put on the market, there's been a significant decline in the last 10 years," he said. "And clearly the so-called blockbuster drugs, those that have broad appeal to chronic diseases that affect many patients, have not been there."
Merck says it will eventually cut about 15 percent of its workforce and expects the merger will save it some $3.5 billion annually after 2011.