Monday, November 30, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, August 19, 2015, 4:45 AM

Tension over layoffs and the future of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. spilled into the public domain Tuesday evening as a written exchange between CEO Ken Frazier and a union leader cast doubt on the safety of workers and people in the community near the company's factory in West Point, Montgomery County.

“I dread but expect the day when someone forced to work a double shift of work (16 hours) gets in their car after work, drives home and falls asleep at the wheel, hurting themselves, someone else or someone else’s child,” wrote Dan Bangert, a 29-year Merck employee and president of the United Steelworkers Union local. Bangert wrote the internal company blog post on July 30 and it was re-posted on the union website Tuesday evening, along with an exchange of emails between Bangert and Frazier on July 30 and July 31.

Bangert wrote - and other workers have told the Inquirer -- that Merck's decision to cut thousands of jobs to please Wall Street resulted in middle managers forcing workers to accept 16 hour shifts or face termination. Fatigue increases danger of injury at the plant, they said, and on the way home. The frustration grew when Frazier announced July 28 that all employees - except union members - would get an extra day off as a sign of appreciation for their efforts.

POSTED: Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 2:15 PM

California-based drugmaker Amgen has agreed to pay $71 million to 48 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and the District of Columbia to settle allegations that it violated consumer protection laws with misleading promotion of anemia drug Aranesp and its plaque psoriasis drug Enbrel

Pennsylvania is likely to get about $2.4 million of the total, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said that state would get about $1.57 million.

A whistleblower helped start the federal portion of the investigation. Eventually, Amgen pleaded guilty in 2012 to one count of misbranding Aranesp, and agreed to pay $762 million in criminal and civil penalties.

POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2015, 6:14 AM

     Prof. Uwe E. Reinhardt teaches health economics, comparative health systems, general microeconomics and financial management at Princeton.

     In a story last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Reinhardt uses some high-level economic language, a few charts and graphs, but, basically, lays bare the American societal conundrum and moral dilemma of high-priced medicine.

      The headline was: "Probing our Moral Values in Health Care: the Pricing of Specialty Drugs" 

POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2015, 7:18 AM

     Merck & Co., cut 1,950 jobs in the first six months of 2015 as part of two cost-cutting programs announced in 2010 and 2013, and the near-term pain might not be over.

     When the massive layoff programs overlap, the accounting can be more complicated.

     That was evident in the quarterly statement filed by Merck with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2015, 7:03 AM

     If you paid $4.99 for the cell phone app "Mole Detective," in hopes that it would diagnose skin cancer, specifically melanoma, the Federal Trade Commission has bad news for you:

     “We haven’t found any scientific evidence that Mole Detective can accurately assess melanoma risk,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “If you’re concerned that a mole may be cancerous, please see a health professional.”

     The FTC said Thursday (link here) that the owner of the app had settled a charges filed in a February lawsuit and the agreement prevents him from "making any further deceptive health claims about his products."

POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2015, 9:38 AM
CSL Behring, part of CSL Limited, has a facility in King of Prussia. (Photo courtesy of CSL Behring)

CSL Limited, parent of CSL Behring, is an Australian-based biopharmaceutical company with operations in King of Prussia and is now adding operations in North Carolina and the United Kingdom. Almost by default, the company has to be global.

While presenting full-year financial results to investment analysts - Wednesday morning in Melbouren, Tuesday night in Philadelphia - chief executive Paul Perreault spoke of the challenges of trying to navigate and sell medicine in the the world's two biggest economies - China and the United States.

"People underestimate the complexity of the U.S. healthcare system," Perreault said, via the webcast. "It's much like everybody rushing to China. Everybody wants to get there and then you get there and you're like, 'Whoa.' "

POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2015, 9:07 AM
A view of the Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey. Merck's Keytruda, which costs about $150,000 a year, sold $83 million in the first quarter. (Reuters File Photo / Jeff Zelevansky)

     Merck & Co., said Thursday it struck a deal to collaborate with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center  to evaluate Merck’s immunotherapy cancer drug Keytruda (generic name is pembrolizumab) when combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other new anti-tumor medicines.

     Keytruda is approved for advanced stage melanoma and MD Anderson, which is based in Houston, was involved in that research.

     The tumor types to be studied over three years in the new agreement are gastroesophageal adenocarcinoma, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 8:19 AM
Kim Kardashian, taking her daughter to a ballet class in Tarzana. (

     Reality (?) TV star Kim Kardashian has run afoul of the Food and Drug Administration.

     Kardashian has been shilling for a Canadian drugmaker that makes a morning sickness drug, using her millions of followers on Instagram and Facebook.

     But - and this will shock you - Kimmy did not mention the less happy aspects of the drug, Diclegis, made by Duchesnay Inc., beyond linking to information that included the FDA approved label. Duchesnay's U.S. headquarters is in the Philadelphia suburb of Rosemont.

About this blog
David Sell blogs about the region's pharmaceutical industry. Follow him on Facebook.

Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Reach David at or 215-854-4506.

David Sell Inquirer Staff Writer
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