Merck will close Inspire's HQ

The drug maker completes its $430 million purchase of the Raleigh-based pharmaceutical company.

Staff WriterMay 17, 2011 

Merck, which on Monday completed its $430 million acquisition of Inspire Pharmaceuticals, has decided to shut down Inspire's headquarters operation in Raleigh.

The move, which is expected to happen before the end of the year, definitely will mean job losses - but it's not clear how many. "We expect some employees will be separated," Merck spokesman Ian McConnell said late Monday.

When asked for more details about how many jobs will be eliminated, he replied, "I don't have any specific information on that, I'm afraid, at this time."

Where the Raleigh employees whose jobs are retained after the shutdown would work hasn't yet been determined, McConnell said. In addition to Inspire's operations, New Jersey-based Merck has about 1,000 workers in North Carolina spread across two sites, including a vaccine manufacturing facility in Durham.

About 175 Inspire workers, including an estimated 60 in Raleigh, became Merck employees Monday. As a result of the sale, which was announced in February, Inspire shares are no longer traded on Nasdaq.

The job cuts will include top executives. "Several senior leaders are departing in May, and others will depart on dates to be determined as we go through the process of integrating the two organizations," McConnell said.

McConnell declined to say whether Inspire CEO Adrian Adams, who was recruited to head the company last year, is remaining with the business. "We're not naming names," he said.

Adams has declined interview requests since the deal was announced.

The acquisition provides Merck "an expanded portfolio of therapeutic options, which is important to our ophthalmology franchise, as well as a very valued sales force," McConnell said.

Inspire was founded in 1995 on research conducted at UNC-Chapel Hill, and went public in 2000. It had 240 employees at the outset of this year, but it cut 27 percent of its workforce in February after its experimental treatment for cystic fibrosis unexpectedly failed in clinical trials. That failure, after 10 years and $120 million spent on the drug's development, triggered the company's sale.

The acquisition gives Merck Inspire's AzaSite treatment for pinkeye, as well as a treatment for dry eye sold in Japan. Inspire once had high hopes for selling its dry-eye treatment in the U.S. market as well, but the company gave up efforts to win regulatory approval after the drug failed clinical tests three times.

Inspire weighed rival bids from two suitors before agreeing to be acquired by Merck, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Merck offer was a little higher - $5 per share versus $4.90. In addition, Inspire considered the other, unidentified bid "more conditional" because that company needed to obtain significant financing to complete the deal.

david.ranii@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4877

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