Merck reassigns Gardasil exec

Sometimes in business journalism we overlook the fact that every deal, every drug approval, every sales decline isn't some abstract event, but one engineered and caused by, lamented or celebrated, by individual people. When the story is a layoff, the impact on individuals is clear. Not so much a "Complete Response Letter" issued by the FDA--but today, thanks to Forbes, we have an inkling.

Recall that Merck's HPV vaccine Gardasil failed to win the FDA nod for use in older women, and that expanding the indications for that shot is key to growing its sales. Well, the senior vice president in charge of that vaccine, Bev Lybrand, won't be in charge there anymore. She's moving to heart drugs. In that treatment area, Merck has no new meds ready for launch for at least another year. Announced in a memo obtained by Forbes, the change "will enable us... to drive growth in these two important franchises," the company said.

Lybrand's experience with launching Gardasil and other new products will help Merck "return our cardiovascular and atherosclerosis franchise to leadership," that memo states. As you know, Merck's latest foray into that field, the cholesterol med Cordaptive, is on the back burner till 2013, and its blood pressure drug Cozaar could go off patent as soon as two years from now. So it's true that Merck's heart-drug line needs a boost.

Taking over the Gardasil shop will be Soren Bo Christiansen, another SVP who has been running the division that handles bone drug Fosamax and allergy/asthma remedy Singulair. Now, Christiansen will handle the HPV vaccine and other adult shots, including the Zostavax vaccine against varicella (the chicken pox virus), which also causes shingles.

If you recognize Christiansen's name, that might be because it popped up during the Enhance controversy. He had been pushing a Schering-Plough exec to step up the pace and get that data out the door. Now, he'll be charged with getting more Gardasil out the door and into syringes. Stay tuned.

- read the Forbes article