EMD Serono's innovative specialty marketing may be a partial bulwark against the encroaching threat of biosimilars. Already
authorized in Europe, follow-on biologics increasingly appear to be a fait accompli in the United States, although serious
concerns over their efficacy and safety may stall legislation for a year or two. For biopharmas like Merck Serono, there are
also serious concerns about innovator exclusivity.
Firouz is an engaged but fair-minded partisan on the issue. "My position is not that we should not have follow-on biologics.
But in order for them to be a realistic and viable option for patients, two things need to happen," he says. "First, any company
producing biosimilars needs to run the proper clinical trials. Second, the innovators, like Merck Serono, need proper incentives
in order to keep up our intensive, high-risk investment in the next wave of innovation. Because, ultimately, what we are here
for is to come up with cures."
It is not every day that a pharma leader talks passionately about patient support and cures for disease. As for the bottom
line, Merck Serono's second-quarter filings record pharma sales rising 11 percent against last year's, with Rebif up 8.2 percent
to a record $420 million for the quarter and Erbitux jumping 44 percent to $156 million. It saw its first drug go to market
since the merger—Pergoveris, the first-ever recombinant combo to stimulate fertility. If its late-stage pipeline pans out,
Merck Serono could be launching new drugs for major diseases like MS and Parkinson's as well as several treatments for small,
but serious, unmet medical needs.
Conventional wisdom has it that the failure rate of mergers—in terms of achieving greater-than-average productivity, not to
mention intended goals—is slightly less than that of marriages, about 50 to 80 percent. But based on the bottom line, at year
one, it looks like Merck Serono may beat the odds.