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Merck to Cut Research Jobs as Perlmutter Sets Direction

Merck & Co., the second-largest U.S. drugmaker, plans to cut jobs at its research laboratories, two months after Roger Perlmutter took helm of the unit.

The shakeup includes immediate elimination of some positions and additional reductions over time, said Steve Cragle, a spokesman for the Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based company. He said it’s too early to say how many or what positions are affected.

“The changes are part of our existing strategy that we’ve talked about for quite some time, as well as our commitment to streamlining our operating model,” Cragle said in a telephone interview today. The structure of Merck Research Laboratories “has been altered to simplify governance so we can advance our therapeutic and vaccine candidates more efficiently and focus our resources on the most promising programs.”

Perlmutter, Amgen Inc.’s former top scientist, replaced Peter Kim as Merck’s head of research in April after several experimental medicines suffered setbacks in trials. Merck’s lack of new drugs contributed to a 2 percent revenue decline last year as the company’s asthma treatment Singulair faced generic competition.

“We don’t think Merck investors view the status quo as a good option,” Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group in New York, wrote in a note to clients today. “We think the Street will generally respond favorably.”

Reports of a shakeup were posted on a pharmaceutical industry blog today run by Derek Lowe called “In the Pipeline.”

Merck rose less than 1 percent to $47.95 at 4 p.m. New York time. The shares have gained 17 percent this year.

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