Corporate Executive of the Year: Kenneth Frazier Shares Prescription For Growth

Merck’s Chairman & CEO has a bold strategy for this $44 billion pharmaceutical giant

Merck Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier (Image: File)

Get ready for the next breakthrough cancer drug. Merck & Co. is developing pembrolizumab, an investigational anti-PD-1 immunotherapy also known as MK-3475. What makes this treatment so revolutionary is its use of the body’s own natural defenses to fight malignant tumors.

Since March, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed Merck to initiate an expanded access program in which a number of eligible patients with advanced melanoma have been able to receive treatment before final federal approval or outside of the clinical trial process. Merck has received a priority review for this drug prospect as the Octo. 28 FDA deadline nears for the agency to make a decision on a new wave of such immuno-oncology treatments. Moreover, the European Medicines Agency is in the process of reviewing a marketing authorization application for the drug that could be available throughout the continent by the end of the year.

Merck Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier views MK-3475 as a game changer with the potential to save millions of lives worldwide. Will Merck win the cancer drug race by beating its Big Pharma competitors Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche to market? His response: “Let me start by saying that Merck is a company committed to saving and improving lives. With this new immunotherapy for cancer, we have a whole new way of treating people who have different kinds of cancers. We’re investigating it in more than 30 tumor types right now. Of course, we would like to get to market first. We like to be leaders. But the reality of the world is that all of these companies have an opportunity to contribute to the health of cancer patients. If we’re able to do that as an industry, that’s actually great for mankind.”

RELATED: Black Enterprise Publishes Exclusive Registry of African Americans on Corporate Boards

Frazier further makes his case, citing that Merck’s “raison d’être is coming forward with transformational medicines.” And there are plenty of such offerings in the pipeline, including the next generation of drugs to treat HIV as well as a novel treatment for the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, a leading cause of liver damage that has infected around 150 million globally.

Frazier has authorized his team to make significant investments. Since taking the helm, he has given the green light to pumping billions into research and development to attack a host of pernicious diseases. And this fall Merck expects to complete the $3.85 billion acquisition of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Idenix Pharmaceuticals, which focuses on HCV treatment, to add a third component of a “triple therapy,” combining it with two existing drugs in Merck’s portfolio.

Find out more about Frazier’s path to success on the next page …

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  • Bill_Levinson

    I am sure that Merck would have developed this drug with or without Mr. Frazier. I am not sure he is a role model that Black professionals want to emulate.

    I know that Penn State would be better off without him. In July 2012, he, along with then Trustee Chairwoman Karen Peetz, affirmed the Freeh Report’s dishonest and defamatory (with regard to Coach Joe Paterno), and more likely than not defamatory (with regard to Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz) conclusion that Penn State had somehow facilitated Jerry Sandusky’s activities. He and Peetz did this in apparent violation of the Board of Trustees’ Standing Orders by stating a position on Penn State’s behalf–Peetz explicitly on behalf of the Board, in her capacity as Chairwoman–without authorization by the Board, and possibly without reading the report. Anybody who has taken the time to do so knows the numerous problems with it.

    Then, when the NCAA used their statements as an excuse to impose on Penn State the kind of sanctions it normally reserves for the most corrupt and dishonest athletic programs in the country, neither he nor Peetz took the responsibility to correct the NCAA’s misstatement of fact (that Penn State accepted the findings).

    When alumnus Bill Cluck challenged the Freeh Report in March 2013, Mr. Frazier lashed out with a racially-charged tirade which is available for your listening pleasure here. http://notpsu.blogspot.com/2013/03/ken-frazier-racist-remark-on-tape.html

    “We are not subject to the criminal beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard,
    and you’re a lawyer, so you can stop pretending that you think we are,”

    “We can take employment actions, we can take corrective actions without any need to resort to the so-called due process, reasonable doubt standard, and I don’t care if they are acquitted. And you know the difference.

    “If you cared about that, you are one of the few people in this country, that looks like you, who actually believes the O.J. Simpson not guilty verdict was correct. And you know you do.”

    “So the reality of the world is…”

    “Yes, I said it.”

    “The fact of the matter is, those documents say what they say, and no amount of hand-waving will ever change what those documents say.”[End of Frazier quote]

    For the record, I am one of those people that look like Bill Cluck who believes the O.J. Simpson verdict was correct because of the chain of custody problem with the evidence. Furthermore, noting how many people that look like Mr. Frazier who were once denied due process by racists, his contempt for this concept is absolutely appalling.

    • Bill_Levinson

      “The case that won Frazier the greatest praise, however, is the pro bono
      work he did that won the release of James Willie “Bo” Cochran who was
      wrongly convicted for killing a white man in Alabama. Cochran had spent
      21 years on death row.”

      It is regrettable that Mr. Frazier did not extend the sense of justice he displayed in this situation, and for which he deserves enormous credit, to the people who were wrongly accused at Penn State.

  • 409 4ever

    It appears that Frazier is protecting his own self interest & Merck while failing in his fiduciary duties as a member of the PSU Board. He should do the honorable thing & resign from the PSU board. His racist comments as noted in the comment below are appalling as well.

  • Dave

    I live near Merck and have a lot of friends who work there. Some of them think, for the many millions he makes, while many hundreds or people are laid off, he should spend more time at Merck and less screwing up Penn State. I agree.

  • bill

    When you give an award to an undeserving coward you lose credibility.

  • Denise

    Ken Frazier is a racist with a history of horrible injustices served on innocent people. He only cares about putting money in his pocket. The ethics rules of Merck are a joke as I once reported problems with no response. How much did he pay to place this piece? Disgusting…

  • Bill_Levinson

    Another issue is as to whether Frazier cut his own pay after laying off thousands of workers, or continued to collect his full salary and bonuses. In the latter case, Merck’s employees now owe nothing more than perfunctory loyalty, and a 9-5 work ethic, to the company.

    John Surma (U.S. Steel), another of the four individuals responsible for the enormous damage to Penn State, did cut his own pay when the company had layoffs. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2010-04-02-many-ceos-took-a-pay-cut-in-2009_N.htm

    “Some companies were frank about the pay cuts, including U.S. Steel, where CEO J.P. Surma took the largest pay cut, 86%, outside of the financial sector. Surma’s salary was cut 20% starting July 1 at his suggestion, the company’s regulatory filing says. U.S. Steel’s board pointed out the CEO shouldn’t be protected from belt tightening. “It was important for executive management to lead by example,” the filing says.”

    Despite Surma’s mishandling of the Jerry Sandusky crisis at Penn State, the example he set at U.S. Steel is worthy of emulation, and discussion in leadership case studies. Mr. Frazier, on the other hand: http://www.cafepharma.com/boards/showthread.php?t=558931 (This is a discussion board and not a news source, but I can find no evidence to the contrary.)

  • Gene Lizardi

    What a stinking joke. This is one of the most obnoxious assholes to ever sit on a board of trustees. Arrogance should be his middle name. Any honors he ever receives I have to assume is on the back of others. He has done NOTHING but damage to Penn State University. He should never be allowed to make any decisions for anyone but himself and I would never trust this man in any regard. If he is touting a new drug, I would doubt it would be anything but snake oil. Despicable human being on every level.