Merck & Co.

Merck & Co. has been manufacturing and marketing medical products in the U.S. since 1891. In 2014, the company employed 69,000 people and reported revenues totaling more than $42 billion.

Merck & Co. History

The origins of Merck & Co. can be traced back to the 1600s in Germany, when Friedrich Jacob Merck opened Merck KGaA. His apothecary sold morphine, cocaine and codeine. Heinrich Emmanuel Merck transformed the business in 1827 when the company – now E. Merck – became a manufacturer. A U.S. sales office opened in 1887.

In 1891, Merck & Co. was established in the U.S., with George Merck, Heinrich’s grandson, at the helm.

The first commercially available smallpox vaccine in the U.S. was marketed by Merck in 1898, and the Merck Manual was published the following year. Today, the manual is one of the most widely used textbooks in the world, having been translated into 17 languages.

In 1902, Merck & Co. established its first manufacturing plant in Rahway, New Jersey. World War I prompted Merck to sever its relationship with E. Merck in 1917.

In 1944, a collaboration between Merck and researchers at Rutgers University produced streptomycin (an antibiotic to treat tuberculosis), as well as a cortisone synthesis to treat pain. In 1953, Merck merged with Sharp & Dohme, creating what was then the largest U.S. manufacturer of prescription drugs.  Merck developed the first measles vaccine in 1963, followed by the first mumps vaccine in 1967.

In 1988, Merck’s Vasotec (used to treat congestive heart failure) became the company’s first drug to bring in $1 billion dollars in a single year. The painkiller Vioxx was introduced in 1999, only to be recalled by Merck in 2004.

In 2009, Merck merged with Schering-Plough, adding products like Organon’s NuvaRing birth control device to it roster.

Product Safety Scandals

Over the years, Merck has faced controversy and litigation over a number of its products:

  • Vioxx: In 2009, Merck & Co. was forced to recall the painkiller Vioxx due to a potential association with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Prior to the recall, Vioxx had been used by 25 million Americans. Merck would eventually pay nearly $7 billion in settlements and legal costs due to the resulting product liability lawsuits, along with $1 billion to resolve criminal and civil charges over illegal marketing and sales allegations. The company has never admitted to any wrongdoing in its handling of Vioxx.
  • Januvia: Merck’s Type 2 diabetes drug, Januvia, was launched in 2006. By 2009, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had received dozens of reports of acute pancreatitis related to the medication. In 2013, the FDA began investigating a potential link between the use of incretin mimetics, including Januvia, and an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • NuvaRing: A number of studies have pointed to a possible association between the use of NuvaRing and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In 2014, Merck & Co. settled more than 1,000 NuvaRing lawsuits for $100,000.
  1. Merck & Co. (N.D.) “Our History”
  2. com (2007) “Merck reaches $830M settlement in long-running Vioxx litigation”
  3. FeircePharma (2016) “Merck offers billions for Vioxx claims The deal, worth up to $4.85 billion, would settle 26,000 suits over the discontinued pain reliever”
  4. DA (2009) “Information for Healthcare Professionals – Acute pancreatitis and sitagliptin (marketed as Januvia and Janumet)”
  5. FDA (2013) “FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA investigating reports of possible increased risk of pancreatitis and pre-cancerous findings of the pancreas from incretin mimetic drugs for type 2 diabetes”
  6. Bloomberg News (2014) “Merck Agrees to $100 Million NuvaRing Settlement”
Last Modified: June 20, 2016

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