With a Lasting Legacy, Merck’s R&D Chief to Retire Effective Jan. 1

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Merck announced that Roger M. Perlmutter, the company’s executive vice president and president of Merck Research Laboratories, was retiring effective January 1, 2021. He will be succeeded by Dean Y. Li.

It was announced yesterday that Perlmutter was joining San Francisco-based insitro, a machine-learning focused drug discovery and development company, as the company’s first independent board director. Prior to joining Merck, Perlmutter was executive vice president and head of research and development at Amgen, where he oversaw the registration of 10 new drugs in oncology, endocrinology, hematology, inflammation and osteoporosis, including well-known drugs such as Sensipar, Prolia and Xgeva.

Perlmutter was appointed president of Merck Research Laboratories in April 2013. Since then, the company has won more than 100 regulatory approvals globally, including more than 15 novel vaccines and therapeutics. These include therapies for multiple cancers, diabetes and for infections such as Ebola, HIV, hepatitis C and cytomegalovirus. He notably established the company’s checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab) as the most dominant immuno-oncology therapy on the market. The drug alone has been approved for more than 25 indications across 16 tumor types.

“Since rejoining the company seven years ago, Dr. Roger Perlmutter has had a profound impact on Merck and the patients we exist to serve,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck. “During his tenure as its President, Merck Research Laboratories have made historic breakthroughs in immuno-oncology and other fields of medicine that have both transformed clinical practice and vastly improved patient outcomes. Roger’s legacy will include a rejuvenated research and development organization, staffed by world-class scientists, clinicians and professionals and led by Dr. Dean Li.”

Perlmutter had worked with Merck as a vice president, but left for Amgen, then returned to Merck in 2013. Part of his response at taking the position had been to streamline management and cut unwanted R&D programs. He also pushed for immuno-oncology to take a larger role in the company, which helped turn Keytruda into a drug that now rakes in $11 billion a year.

In 2019, Perlmutter received a pay package of $9.2 million.

Dean Li is currently serving as senior vice president of Discovery Sciences and Translational Medicine at Merck Research Laboratories. He joined the company in 2017 as vice president and head of translational medicine. Prior to Merck, Li held positions at the University of Utah, most recently as the H.A. & Edna Benning Professor of Medicine and Cardiology, chief scientific officer, associate vice president and vice dean at the University of Utah Health System. While at the University of Utah, he co-founded multiple biotech companies based on his lab’s research, including Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Hydra Biosciences and Navigen Pharmaceuticals.

“Since joining us in 2017, Dean has demonstrated strong leadership in building our discovery and translational medicine capabilities, advancing our pipeline and paved the way for Merck Research Laboratories to build on its singular legacy,” Frazier stated. “Dean’s 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.”

At the news, Perlmutter noted, “It has been an honor to lead the talented people of Merck Research Laboratories during the last seven years. I look forward to continuing to work with Dean over the next few months to advance our scientific strategy and continue the strong momentum in our pipeline.”

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