Merck vet Romanelli returns as international human health chief after brief stint as CEO at Chinese drugmaker

After tapping its former exec Frank Clyburn with a wide range of responsibilities, Merck & Co. has replaced him with three executives.

On Wednesday, Merck completed the troika with the addition of a familiar face in Joseph Romanelli, the company's new chief of international human health.

Romanelli, who served at Merck for 25 years and led the company’s efforts in China from 2016 to 2021, returns after a brief stint as chief executive officer at Shanghai-based JiXing Pharmaceuticals, where he took over in July of last year.

With the appointment, Merck has tapped yet another exec to help fill Clyburn's shoes after the company's former human health president left to become CEO at DuPont’s International Flavors & Fragrances early this year.

In February, Merck promoted Arpa Garay to chief of human health marketing and tapped oncology vet Jannie Oosthuizen to lead its U.S. human health outfit.

Romanelli moves into a role that was filled on an interim basis by Deepak Khanna when Clyburn left on Feb. 1. Romanelli takes control of an international unit that did $22 billion in business in 2021 and counts 14,000 employees in more than 75 markets outside of the United States. 

As Merck’s China chief, Romanelli oversaw more than 20 product launches, including Keytruda and Gardasil, which became the best-selling product in China from outside the country. During his tenure, Merck grew from No. 7 to No. 2 in revenue in China among multinational companies.

Romanelli came to Merck after earning degrees from Delaware and Fordham. He's also served stints as VP of investor relations and as president of U.S. human health.

With the departure in the middle of last year by longtime CEO Ken Frazier, Merck has undergone sweeping changes. CEO Robert Davis has moved up from the CFO job and Caroline Litchfield took over his post after serving as treasurer.

Clyburn was believed to be in the running to replace Frazier. So was former human health head Michael Nally, who now is the CEO at Generate Biomedicines.