Merck gains traction in Brazil with joint venture

Merck is taking closer aim at the Brazilian pharma market with a new joint venture. The U.S. company has forged a partnership with the Brazilian drugmaker Supera Farma Laboratorios, which is itself co-owned by two domestic pharma companies, Cristália and Eurofarma. The venture will begin by marketing a portfolio of 30 products drawn from the three drugmakers.

The JV will be 51%-owned by Merck ($MRK), with Supera Farma owning the remaining 49%. It will have its own, dedicated sales force, although the three parent companies will continue to maintain their separate operations in the country. The initial drug portfolio will include branded drugs and branded generics.

Brazil is one of the faster growing drug markets in the world, and one that several Big Pharma firms have targeted for expansion. Sanofi ($SNY) paid $660 million in 2009 for one of the country's major generics companies, Medley, becoming the biggest producer of copycat drugs in Latin America. Pfizer ($PFE) bought a 40% stake in Laboratorio Teuto for $240 million in 2010. More recently, Amgen ($AMGN) spent $215 million on Bergamo, a privately held drugmaker that markets cancer drugs to Brazilian hospitals. At the same time, the U.S. company repurchased the Brazilian rights to several of its meds.

The arrangement offers Merck improved distribution in Brazil, local expertise and an expanded product portfolio, the company said. "Merck is pleased to partner with two of Brazil's leading pharmaceutical companies," Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier (pictured) said in a statement. "This venture is an important step forward in our strategy to grow our business in key markets and improve global access to our medicines and vaccines."

- see the release from Merck