Merck KGaA Names Pharmaceutical Head Oschmann Deputy CEO

Merck KGaA, the German maker of Erbitux cancer medicine, promoted Stefan Oschmann to deputy chief executive officer and appointed Belen Garijo as its first female board member. The stock rose to a record.

Oschmann, currently head of the pharmaceutical unit, and Garijo, now CEO of the Merck Serono biopharmaceutical division, will assume their new roles Jan. 1, the Darmstadt-based drug and chemical manufacturer said in a statement. Garijo also takes on oversight of the company’s entire pharma business.

Oschmann will join CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley in representing Merck with politicians and international organizations, while sharing management functions, the company said. The personnel moves follow the unexpected resignation of Matthias Zachert, the chief financial officer who was credited by analysts for turning the company around. Zachert left at the end of March and was replaced by Marcus Kuhnert.

Today’s appointments, announced as the the drugmaker was meeting investors, analysts and journalists to discuss strategy,“strengthen Merck’s leadership team and prepare the ground for continuity to reach our ambitious growth targets until the year 2018 and beyond,” said Johannes Baillou, chairman of the board of partners that appoints executives to the management board.

Merck gained as much as 1.8 percent to 68.89 euros, the highest intraday price since the company’s October 1995 initial public offering, and was trading up 1.4 percent at 5:16 p.m. in Frankfurt. Including reinvested dividends, Merck has gained 7.3 percent this year.

Partner Search

The company is looking for a partner to help develop and market an immune therapy drug it believes can treat forms of lung and ovarian cancer, Garijo said today at a press conference. The drug targets anti-PD-L1 antibodies, similar to AstraZeneca Plc’s MEDI-4736, a product that analysts say could be worth $6.5 billion annually.

Merck, which also sells industrial chemicals and laboratory equipment, hasn’t had a drug approved since 2003, when regulators cleared Erbitux for use. Product-pipeline development failures since then have included treatments for multiple sclerosis and brain and lung cancer. Its current crop of drugs won’t be considered by regulators until 2016.

“After troubled years in the pharma business, and pushing the boundaries of what we could do with our existing products, we are moving into a new phase,” Kley said at the press conference. “This makes us proud and this makes us very confident.”

The company reiterated last month that its acquisition of AZ Electronic Materials SA, a chemical supplier to the electronics industry, will drive profit growth this year. Merck is also focusing on new deals to expand the Merck Serono and life-sciences division.

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