Press Release

Women Scientists Honored For New Diabetes Oral Medication

PhRMA April 26, 2013

Jersey City, N.J. (April 14, 2011) —Two Merck research scientists, Nancy A. Thornberry and Ann E. Weber, Ph.D., will receive the Discoverers Award, the highest honor from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), during a ceremony tonight at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J. [Watch related video]

They will be recognized for their leadership in the discovery of JANUVIA®, a once-daily pill that helps patients with type 2 diabetes control glucose in conjunction with diet and exercise. Though women have been part of teams honored with the Discoverers Award in the past, this is the first time in the award’s 24-year history that women alone have won.

JANUVIA was the first medicine approved by the FDA to inhibit the enzyme DPP-4. By inhibiting DPP-4, JANUVIA helps prevent the degrading of a natural hormone that signals the pancreas to release insulin. Today, JANUVIA is being prescribed to millions of patients with type 2 diabetes and demonstrates Merck's commitment to develop therapies to improve human health around the world.

“Because of the work of Ann and Nancy and their team, many diabetes patients around the world have a new medicine in their fight against this serious chronic disease,” said John. J. Castellani, president and CEO of PhRMA. “Their work stands on its own, but also represents the skill, vision and effort of research scientists throughout our industry who are dedicated to improving patient health.”

Thornberry, who has worked at Merck since 1979, said that even though her goal had always been to help find an important new medicine, it wasn’t until JANUVIA was proven successful that she actually had any idea how “absolutely thrilling” and “incredibly satisfying” it would feel.

Weber, who joined the company in 1987 after completing her graduate studies, said that when she saw the first promising clinical data, “I felt like I was flying; my feet never touched the ground.”

Nancy Thornberry, of Westfield, N.J., is a graduate of Muhlenberg College and currently is senior vice president and franchise head of Diabetes and Endocrinology at Merck’s Research Laboratories in Rahway, N.J.

"We are proud that the Merck scientists who worked on JANUVIA are being recognized with this prestigious award," says Kenneth C. Frazier, Merck president and chief executive officer. "We congratulate them and their entire team whose focus and determination brought forward the first innovative diabetes medicine in more than a decade."

Ann Weber, of Scotch Plains, N.J., is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and earned her Ph.D. at Harvard before joining Merck, where she serves as vice president and Rahway site lead for Discovery Chemistry at Merck Research Laboratories.

Clinical trials are critical to the discovery process and have become increasingly complex and lengthy. Just the final, phase 3 trials for JANUVIA involved thousands of patients in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and countries in Europe and Asia. The four physicians who led this undertaking also will be honored tonight with the Clinical Trial Exceptional Service Award. They are Keith D. Kaufman, M.D., of Westfield, N.J.; Gary A. Herman, M.D. of Princeton, N.J.; John Amatruda, M.D., of New York City and Peter Stein, M.D., of Princeton Junction, N.J.

Diabetes is a rapidly growing, worldwide epidemic that currently affects more than 285 million people, including nearly 26 million Americans. As the population grows and more countries industrialize, leading to more sedentary jobs and more food choices, the incidence of diabetes is expected to soar to 438 million cases by 2030. Addressing the problem will require both lifestyle changes and new innovative medicines to deal both with the disease and its complications.

"The talent, leadership and passion of Nancy and Ann and the clinical teams that worked with them were pivotal in the successful development of JANUVIA," says Peter S. Kim, Ph.D., president, Merck Research Laboratories. "JANUVIA demonstrates our company's tremendous commitment to pharmaceutical innovation and the benefits we bring to patients and physicians who struggle with type 2 diabetes every day."

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The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that allow patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. PhRMA companies are leading the way in the search for new cures. PhRMA members alone invested an estimated $49.4 billion in 2010 in discovering and developing new medicines. Industry-wide research and investment reached a record $67.4 billion in 2010.

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