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Merck has promoted its general counsel into management by naming current general counsel Kenneth Frazier as president of its global human health unit.
Frazier's promotion marks a growing trend in the pharmaceutical industry, which has seen the need for strong legal representation at the highest level. Last year rival pharmaceutical company Pfizer named its general counsel Jeffrey Kindler as chief executive.
The move makes Frazier second in line for the reins of the company's worldwide drug business after chief executive Dick Clark.
Frazier, who became general counsel in 1999, became legendary in the New Jersey company with his strategy of fighting the thousands of lawsuits that resulted from the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx one by one.
Vioxx was withdrawn in September 2004 following revelations that the drug doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Frazier orchestrated a strategy that saw the company fight all the product liability lawsuits that arose from the withdrawal individually rather than settling them. The successful strategy has seen Merck win nine of 14 verdicts to date and some 4,600 lawsuits have been dismissed.
Frazier's new role will see him step into a less litigious role, where he is to supervise more than 30,000 sales and marketing employees globally in Merck's drug and vaccine businesses.
He will also be responsible for heading product launches and optimising sales of existing drugs. Frazier is to continue to work with his replacement former associate general counsel Bruce Kuhlik on Vioxx-related issues. Kuhlik joined Merck in 2005 with responsibility for its Vioxx-specific legal defence from trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, where he was general counsel.
Frazier will be replacing Peter Löscher, who left the drug company in May to take up the post of chief executive at Simmens.