Merck & Co has reaffirmed its intention to continue developing treatments for a broad range of cardiovascular disorders, at a time when fellow drug giant Pfizer has announced plans to pull out of such research.

Merck reiterated its commitment to heart drugs ahead of the American Heart Association conference in New Orleans, and in a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of its first major treatment for cardiovascular disease. Richard Pasternak, vice president of cardiovascular clinical research at the firm, said “what we're doing today and in the future will help us to deliver another 50 years of innovation".

The company suffered a setback in the field earlier this year after the US Food and Drug Administration has issued a not approvable letter for MK-0524A (extended-release niacin/laropiprant) for the treatment of primary hypercholesterolemia or mixed dyslipidemia. However, the compound has been approved in Europe, where it is marketed as Tredaptive.

He noted that the company “has more than 1,200 scientists and employees dedicated to fighting heart disease” and eight new drug candidates in cardiovascular R&D for diseases such as heart failure, hypertension, the metabolic syndrome and dyslipidemia. Dr Pasternak added that collaborations with external partners, “wherever in the world, are an integral and essential part of our long-term business and research strategy" and the firm’s record in cardiovascular care “has made Merck a preferred partner for years – a status we intend to retain".

At present, Merck has collaborations with Actelion (hypertension) Advinus Therapeutics (metabolic syndrome) Arena Pharmaceuticals (lipid management) and NicOx (antihypertensives).

Merck’s announcement comes a month or so after Pfizer announced that is to abandon early-stage research on heart drugs and put its R&D focus on other areas such as oncology and diabetes.