Merck's Clyburn headed for the exit, opening top human health spot at the New Jersey pharma giant

A top spot is opening at Merck as Frank Clyburn's brief stint as head of the company's human health division closes out. 

Fourteen-year Merck veteran Clyburn, currently executive vice president and president of the New Jersey-based drugmaker’s human health outfit, will hit the exit Feb. 1.

Clyburn is taking off to “assume a leadership opportunity with another company,” Merck said Thursday. The company will name a replacement to head up human health in the coming weeks, it added.

Specifically, Clyburn is taking up the CEO mantle at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), where he’ll succeed Andreas Fibig on Valentine’s Day. Clyburn will also join IFF’s board of directors.

Clyburn entered the fold at Merck back in 2008. Before he was put in charge of human health in March 2021, Clyburn served as chief commercial officer for the same division of the company as well as president of Merck’s global oncology business.

His move comes a little less than a year after prominent Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who’d held the reins since 2011, retired at the end of June 2021, passing the title to Merck’s then-chief financial officer Robert Davis.

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Over the course of his 14-year run at Merck, Clyburn led myriad marketing and sales teams, and he also managed products in disease areas such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and women’s health.

Merck last year spun off its women’s health, biosimilars and legacy products franchises to create the new company Organon, which went public in early June.

“Frank’s strategic and operational excellence helped establish Merck as a global leader in oncology,” Davis said in a statement. “Our human health business has delivered strong and sustainable growth under Frank’s leadership, and we are well-positioned to continue this momentum with the strong human health team we have in place.”

Clyburn played a key role in launching Merck’s top-seller Keytruda, which has continued to progress like gangbusters as it racks up new indications and megablockbuster sales. In 2021’s third quarter, the PD-1 inhibitor generated $4.53 billion, leaping 22% over the $3.71 billion it made during the same period in 2020.

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Upon his departure, Clyburn will have overseen human health for less than a year. He took over for Michael Nally, chief marketing officer of the same business unit, who left at the end of March 2021. Nally is now CEO of Generate Biomedicines. 

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional details about Clyburn's new role at International Flavors & Fragrances.