History of Merck

Photo 1: Merck's Index: 1869 (public domain)
Photo 2: Engel-Apotheke (Angel Pharmacy) in Darmstadt, Germany, copywrite Merck Serono.

Merck's beginnings can be traced back to Friedrich Jacob Merck's 1668 purchase of an apothecary in Darmstadt, Germany, called 'At the Sign of the Angel' [Engel-Apotheke (Angel Pharmacy)]. Located next to a castle moat, this store remained in the Merck family for generations.
The pharmacy was transformed by Heinrich Emmanuel Merck into a drug manufactory in 1827. His first products were morphine, codeine, and cocaine. By the time he died in 1855, products made by his company, known as E. Merck AG, were used worldwide. In 1887 E. Merck sent a representative, Theodore Weicker, to the United States to set up a sales office. Weicker (who would go on to own drug powerhouse Bristol-Myers Squibb) was joined by George Merck, the 24-year-old grandson of Heinrich Emmanuel Merck in 1891. In 1899, the younger Merck and Weicker acquired a 150-acre plant site in Rahway, New Jersey, and started production in 1903. Weicker left the firm the following year.
The manufacture of drugs and chemicals at this site began in 1903. This same location housed the corporate headquarters of Merck & Co. and four of its divisions, as well as research laboratories and chemical production facilities, into the 1990s. Once known as 'Merck Woods,' the land surrounding the original plant was used to hunt wild game and corral domestic animals. In fact, George Merck kept a flock of 15 to 20 sheep on the grounds to test the effectiveness of an animal disinfectant. The sheep became a permanent part of the Rahway landscape.
The year 1899 also marked the first year the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy was published. In 1983, the manual entered its 14th edition. A New York Times review rated it 'the most widely used medical text in the world.'

- from Merck & Co., Inc. . Retrieved March 3rd, 2011.

Mohammad Aziz was born in Pakistan and spent several years working for the World Health Organization (WHO) as an infectious disease specialist in West Africa before coming to Merck. At the time, Merck had a drug that was very potent in the control of certain parasites but unfortunately didn't work on the two most important human parasitic diseases: tapeworm and hookworm. Instead, the drug was marketed to treat parasites in animalsm especially hook worm in dogs.
It was popular with veterinarians, worked well, and Roy Vaelos had never given it a second thought. At least not until Aziz came to see him about the blackfly.
"Mohammad told me it was possible that this drug could work for river blindness. And I had to say to him, 'What's river blindness?'"
Medically known as onchoncerciasis, it's a disease caused by a parasitic worm that can live and reproduce for up to fourteen years in the human body. Victims suffer constant itching, loss of skin colour, sores, premature aging, and eventual blindness.
The worm is transmitted to humans by the bite of the blackfly, which breeds in the fast-flowing rivers. Very prevalent in West Africa, especially along the basin of the Volta River, blackflies spread the disease as much as 250 to 300 miles from where they breed, threatening approximatively 80 million Africans a year...
Without any hesitation, Vagelos ordered more testing. Ï saw no problem with that. It was the right thing to do". And in so doing, he committed the company to a multimillion-dollar investment. Six years later, when the studies were complete, Merck had a drug called Mectizan that successfully treated the disease.
But Mectizan's success created additional headaches for Vagelos.
The marketing people and the corporate accountants wanted to know how much the company would charge for it. They weren't exactly overjoyed when Vegelos reminded them that the people who so desperately needed this drug lived in mud huts and couldn't possibly pay for it...
Needing around $20 million to help cover costs and distribution of the drug for the first year, his initial plan was to convince the WHO to join forces with Merck. But WHO didn't want to know - a bizarre attitud, considering that many people believed this project was exactly what WHO was supposed to be doing and, moreover, now does.
He then went on to some African governments where the illness was rampant, but they couldn't raise the money.
Next stop was Washington. Hat in hand, Vagelos easily lined up plenty of congressional support and found loads of people in the government who said they were behind the project all the way. But when those people said "All the way,"it didn't mean what Vagelos hoped it meant, which was all the way to the bank.

-pp. 105- 107, A Tale of Two More Drugs in Prescription Games: Money, Ego , and Power Inside the Global Pharmaceutical Industry by Jeffery Robinson (2001)