Merck, rocked in recent years by the Vioxx scandal, said it had been looking to fill the role for 'more than a few months'.
'We're not happy to see Kerins leave,' said GCI Group global president and CEO Jeff Hunt. 'But the good news is that he's going to be our client, so we feel he'll be close.'
Merck made global headlines in 2004 when it was forced to engage in the biggest-ever drug withdrawal. Its blockbuster arthritis drug, Vioxx, was found to double the risk of heart disease and stroke. The case resulted in such interest that Merck set up a dedicated Vioxx media relations team.
Merck was forced into another embarrassing withdrawal this month when a batch of angina-treating Slozem capsules were mislabelled on the foil as 240mg. They were in fact stronger 300mg doses.
Last month Merck announced a restructuring programme in which it will focus research on nine therapeutic areas. Under the scheme,
designed to boost profitability, greater focus will be given to the areas of Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, vaccines, obesity, cancer, pain and sleep disorder.