Merial keeps animals merry. The company makes a variety of drugs and vaccines that treat and prevent disease in pets, livestock, and wildlife. Used by veterinarians, farmers, and pet owners in some 150 countries, the company's lead products include Ivomec and Eprinex, anti-parasitics for livestock; Frontline flea and tick treatments for cats and dogs; and heartworm prevention drug Heartgard. Merial focuses on four treatment areas: anti-infectious drugs, pain medicines, parasiticides, and vaccines. The company sells its over-the-counter products wherever pet supplies are sold, such as pet stores and online retailers, and its prescription medications through veterinarians. The company is owned by Sanofi.
Merial's major markets are the US, Canada, and Europe, as well as Australia, Brazil, and Japan. It makes its products at 15 manufacturing sites around the world and operates more than half a dozen research and development centers.
Merial often collaborates with other drug or biotech firms to develop new products. For example it has an agreement with PR Pharmaceuticals to use that company's sustained-release technology in the development of animal health products. Merial also collaborates with Bioject Medical Technologies on the development of a needle-free injection device for pet vaccines and with Imugene, for that company's vector technology in the development of vaccine candidates for avian and swine flu.
Along with R&D efforts, Merial has grown its product lines over the past few years through strategic acquisitions, such as the buy of of anti-parasitic manufacturer Ancare, as well as by launching new products aimed specific markets.
The company added avian and swine vaccines to its line-up with the launches of Vaxxitek and Circovac; vaccines to fight Blue Tongue Virus and epizooty (diseases affecting many animals at the same time) in Europe; and, Zactran, an antibiotic for the treatment of respiratory tract infections in livestock.
Just like manufacturers of drugs for humans, Merial is vulnerable to patent expirations on its lead products. Top-seller Frontline's active ingredient, fipronil, expired in several of Merial's markets in 2008, though it stills enjoys protection in the US. The company combats patent expirations by researching and developing new products and by obtaining patents on other components of the product (Frontline's actual formulation is still patent-protected.)
Merial was founded in 1997 through the merger of the animal health businesses of Merck and the Rhone Merieux, a predecessor to Sanofi. It was held as a 50/50 joint venture until 2009 when Merck sold its shares to Sanofi for about $4 billion, in order to satisfy antitrust regulators when it acquired Schering-Plough. The dust had barely settled when Merck and Sanofi sought to rekindle their relationship through a new joint venture. In 2010 they announced plans to merge Merial with Merck's new animal health business, Intervet (included in the Schering-Plough purchase). The 50/50 joint venture would have created one of the largest animal health companies in the world. But after spending a year planning, the two companies called off the deal in 2011, citing the complexities of anticipated divestitures that would be needed to satisfy antitrust regulators.