Merck aims for double payoff with new diabetes education push

With Januvia contributing billions in critical revenue, Merck ($MRK) has backed its fair share of diabetes education and awareness efforts. But with its latest, the company may give vaccine sales a boost, too.

The New Jersey drugmaker is partnering with the American Diabetes Association to make sure adult diabetes patients know they're at increased risk for other serious conditions, including pneumococcal pneumonia. The collaboration launched with an insert in the March/April issue of ADA's magazine Diabetes Forecast, and it'll follow up with resources on the publication's website, Merck spokeswoman Pamela Eisele told FiercePharmaMarketing by email.

As it happens, Merck has a pneumococcal pneumonia-blocking vaccine in Pneumovax 23. And while sales of the vaccine are growing--they swelled 14% in 2014 to $745 million--a national immunization program in Japan kicked in a fair share of that growth, as did price hikes in the U.S., the company said in an SEC filing.

In reaching out to diabetes patients--who are three times more likely to develop pneumococcal pneumonia compared with nondiabetic adults, Eisele said--Merck has quite the patient pool. More than 29 million people in the U.S.--9.3% of the country's population--have diabetes, and 1.7 million new cases are diagnosed in adults each year.

There is "therefore a need to increase conversations by [healthcare providers] on the levels of risk for these infections in this patient population," Merck's medical director, Dr. Mel Kohn, said in a statement.

And higher stateside sales volume certainly wouldn't hurt the pharma giant. Merck is just getting used to its new No. 2 position on the worldwide vaccine market, now that Glaxo ($GSK) has closed its $7.1 billion deal for the bulk of Novartis' ($NVS) vaccines business.

It's far from the first diabetes education effort the company has embarked on over the past year. Last April, Merck recruited ex-Law & Order star S. Epatha Merkerson for its America's Diabetes Challenge: Get To Your Goals program. That effort encouraged Type 2 diabetes patients to understand the importance of blood sugar control and talk to their doctors about setting goals to keep levels in check. And in August, Merck tapped celebrity chef and cookbook author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, who has a family history of Type 2 diabetes, to aim the disease-fighting message at the key Latino market.

- read Merck's release

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