Even rather esoteric knowledge can lead to a major breakthrough. Stefan Oschmann, formerly head of the biopharma division at German group Merck and now its CEO, understands only a smattering of Farsi, Iran’s national language. He made use of it once while visiting the company’s research center in Boston.
Chatting with an Iranian researcher, she explained she was working on an immune therapy that strengthens the body’s own powers of defense against cancer cells. A promising project – except that unfortunately no one was interested in it. Mr. Oschmann was. Spontaneously, according to the legend at Merck, the Persian-speaking CEO agreed to a couple million euros and a good dozen people to work on it.
Today, six years later, this small investment is starting to pay off for the German firm, which should not be confused with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Darmstadt-based Merck Group once owned the American firm of the same name, although the two have been completely separate since 1917.
After decades in which Merck’s research pipeline was at best dribbling, Mr. Oschmann is looking to revolutionize cancer treatment with the drug called Bavencio and finally make some real money with pharmaceuticals. Mr. Oschmann himself is speaking of a “historically important event.” Analysts are expecting billions of revenue thanks the drug, which costs $13,000 a month in the US and has been developed together with Pfizer since November 2014. The US peer is entitled to half the turnover generated by the new medicine.