Pfizer, Merck KGaA suit up for Xalkori marketing wave

When Pfizer ($PFE) teamed up with Merck KGaA on lung cancer, the headlines zeroed in on the sexiest part of the $2.85 billion deal: their immuno-oncology plans. The two companies will work together on cancer-fighters in the PD-L1 arena, one of the hottest fields in pharma these days, including a Phase II Merck drug.

But for sales growth in the here-and-now--and a longer-term marketing shake-up--take a look at another provision of that partnership: Merck signed on to promote Xalkori, Pfizer's targeted lung cancer drug, in the U.S. and several other key countries.

The two companies unveiled details of that co-promotion deal Wednesday, and the action is coming soon. The first wave starts next quarter, with a marketing push in the U.S., Canada, Japan and 5 European countries. The second wave, set for next year, will add China and Turkey to the list.

Under the Xalkori deal, Pfizer will reimburse Merck for its promotional spending on the product this year, and start sharing profits with the German company next year in an 80-20 split.

Adding Merck to the promotional mix will give Pfizer more firepower to push Xalkori, the first treatment approved for lung cancer patients with a rare genetic abnormality. On the market since 2011, Xalkori brought in $438 million for Pfizer last year, more than twice its 2013 total. It racked up solid data last year in previously untreated patients, opening the door for a potential new indication. But complicating matters is the fact that Xalkori now has a head-to-head rival in Novartis' ($NVS) Zykadia--making Merck's assistance even more important.

Meanwhile, the Xalkori partnership will lay the groundwork for potential new launches down the line. The two companies will be building up a combined oncology sales organization as they tout the Pfizer drug together.

Pfizer and Merck execs talked up the marketing partnership by saying just that. "Through our co-promotion of XALKORI, we will establish a best-in-class global sales organization that will be exceptionally prepared for the potential launches of our future oncology medicines," said Liz Barrett, president of Pfizer Oncology, in a statement.

Dr. Andrew Schiermeier, general manager for the Merck-Pfizer Alliance and head of Merck's global oncology business, echoed that sentiment. "[T]he co-promotion agreement is an exciting milestone for the alliance between Merck and Pfizer, allowing us to establish our combined oncology sales organization in key markets for the program," Schiermeier said in a statement.

- see the release from Pfizer and Merck

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