The most powerful companies you’ve never heard of: Merck

Pharmaceuticals giant Merck has maintained a low-profile, despite a series of major law suits. AAP

Welcome to “The most powerful companies you’ve never heard of” – an ongoing series from The Conversation that sheds light on big companies with low profiles. Today, Deakin University’s Philip Soos examines pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Merck & Co Inc is one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical health care companies, headquartered in New Jersey.

As is typical for pharmaceutical firms, its principle business is medicines, biologics, vaccines, and consumer and animal products.

Outside of the US, the company is known as Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD), and its Australian subsidiary is headquartered in Sydney.

The company was founded in 1891 by George Merck, a member of the German Merck family who was tasked with setting up shop in the US to expand the business. The original intention was to establish a distribution office for the parent company in Germany, E Merck, a manufacturer and distributor of fine chemicals.

During first world war, the firm had its assets seized by the US government due to its German connections, but was allowed to reestablish itself as a new company in 1919.

If the government had decided otherwise, this would have been the end of Merck. Since then, however, Merck enjoyed relative success, for instance, discovering cortisone, vitamin B12, and streptomycin (an antibiotic therapy for tuberculosis).

Merk’s Vioxx was banned in 2004. AAP