Merck & Co.'s research head Roger Perlmutter to retire

Merck & Co. announced Friday that Roger Perlmutter will step down as president of Merck Research Laboratories, to be replaced by Dean Li from the start of 2021. Li currently serves as senior vice president of discovery sciences and translational medicine at Merck Research Laboratories, having joined the company in 2017.

CEO Kenneth Frazier noted that since joining Merck as head of translational medicine, Li "has demonstrated strong leadership in building our discovery and translational medicine capabilities [and] advanced our pipeline." Commenting further on Li, who has previously co-founded biotechnology companies including Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Hydra Biosciences and Navigen Pharmaceuticals, Frazier said that his "strong clinical background and deep scientific and technological expertise make him the right leader to ensure sustained execution of our broad portfolio during this important time."

Joins AI start-up board

Meanwhile, Merck stated that Perlmutter will stay on as a non-executive director through June 30, 2021, to facilitate the transition. News of his retirement coincides with his appointment as the first independent board member for machine-learning drug discovery start-up insitro, which Perlmutter says is "strategically positioned to spearhead a new approach to drug discovery."

Perlmutter rejoined Merck in his current position in 2013, having served as its executive vice president of worldwide basic research and preclinical development earlier in his career, before moving on to head Amgen's R&D operations from 2001 until 2012. Commenting on his successor, Perlmutter said that ever since Li joined Merck there was talk about whether he could lead the company's research. Perlmutter noted that Li helped lead the launch of Merck's early research laboratories in South San Francisco, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, adding "he has guided the research efforts for quite some time."

Keytruda debut

Under Perlmutter's tenure as president of Merck Research Laboratories, the company has gained over 100 regulatory approvals for its medicines and vaccines globally, including the first authorisation for the PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab). Frazier said Perlmutter's legacy will include a "rejuvenated R&D organisation" that is "well positioned to bring forward life-saving medicines and vaccines for many years to come."

Meanwhile, sources indicated in June last year that Merck had begun searching for an eventual successor to Frazier, who has been in the CEO position since 2011.

To read more Top Story articles, click here.