Merck hands top manufacturing job to Sanat Chattopadhyay

Sanat Chattopadhyay, president of the Merck Manufacturing Division

The man who helped lead Merck & Co. ($MRK) out of difficulties with a slew of vaccine manufacturing issues is taking the top manufacturing job at the Big Pharma company.

The drugmaker announced on Tuesday that Sanat Chattopadhyay has been named president of the Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD) and an executive VP for Merck, succeeding Willie Deese upon his retirement June 1 after a dozen years with the Kenilworth, NJ-based company.

The promotion was announced by CEO Kenneth Frazier, who lauded Chattopadhyay's more than 30 years of biopharma manufacturing experience. "Under his leadership I am confident that MMD will continue to advance toward its goal of becoming a world-class supplier," Frazier said.

Merck said that Chattopadhyay played a key role in assuring its launch of Keytruda, while divulging that the company had faced "commercialization and supply constraints" for the first FDA approved immuno-oncology drug before Chattopadhyay mobilized a "cross-divisional effort" to deal with the challenges.

It said he also was "instrumental in transforming Merck Vaccines' manufacturing and supply."

Chattopadhyay joined Merck in 2009, the year after the FDA had savaged the drugmaker for not fixing issues fast enough at its West Point, PA, vaccine plant. In the years before he came on, the facility had had to recall 1.2 million doses of pediatric vaccines because of concerns over sterility issues. There have also been shortages of its chickenpox vaccine and delays for its highly anticipated shingles vaccine because of plant problems. The company invested about $1 billion in upgrades to its vaccine manufacturing network, including at plants in Durham, NC, and Elkton, VA, to get production to needed levels. With those improvements and greater production capacity, Merck said in 2013 that it would cut about 500 jobs at the West Point plant.

Frazier noted that during his tenure, Deese had overseen a strategic initiative to sharpen the company's commercial and R&D focus that is now saving the company $2.5 billion in annual net costs compared to where it was in 2012.

- here's the announcement