Merck KGaA taps new chief for its pharma ops

Does the rule of threes apply to pharma chiefs? First, we had the announced accession of Kenneth Frazier, Merck's ($MRK) chief executive-to-be on January 1. Then came Pfizer ($PFE) CEO Jeff Kindler's abrupt departure, and Ian Read's elevation to his place. Now, the pharma division of Merck KGaA has a new chief, too.

Elmar Schnee, who has run Merck KGaA's drug operations since 2005, says he'll leave the company for personal reasons. Taking his place: U.S. Merck's emerging-markets chief Stefan Oschmann. Oschmann will take over the prescription drugs unit Merck Serono, and the OTC unit Consumer Health Care, beginning January 1.

As Reuters reports, Schnee's departure comes after a series of stumbles for Merck KGaA. The company's cancer drug Erbitux was rejected for broader use as a lung-cancer treatment. And more recently, E.U. regulators advised against approval of the company's multiple-sclerosis pill cladribine.

As for whether new drugmaker chiefs come in trifecta form--we checked our records to find that there was another trio of new chiefs earlier this year. Novartis tapped Joe Jiminez to take over from previous CEO Daniel Vasella, followed by Bristol-Myers Squibb ushering Lamberto Andreotti into its top job, followed by Celgene's Robert Hugin. But those changes didn't come in nearly as quick a succession as this latest crop.

- read the statement from Merck KGaA
- see the Reuters story
- get more from Bloomberg
- check out the Dow Jones coverage