DARMSTADT, GERMANY — Pharma giant Merck Group is considering agency support for a new brief that focuses on the corporate reputation of its critical oncology business, the Holmes Report has learned. 

The German company is understood to have released the seven-figure brief to several global PR networks, focusing in particular on the UK and US (where Merck is known as EMD Serono, because of the presence of former subsidiary Merck & Co.)

Merck Group has previously worked with Ogilvy PR on a project basis to redefine its corporate positioning around life expectancy. The company also uses a variety of PR firms around the world.

A Merck spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by the Holmes Report.

Around half of Merck's 12bn in revenues are generated by its pharma business, of which oncology is an important therapeutic focus. After several years without a new product, Merck's Avelumab skin cancer drug, produced in partnership with Pfizer, has been granted priority review status by the US FDA. 

Meanwhile, a new report from Merck Group and the American Cancer Society (ACS) warns of an 'explosion' of cancer deaths among women — predicting a toll of around 5.5 million a year by 2030, mainly from breast cancer.

That number would represent an increase of 60% in less than two decades, after 3.5m female cancer deaths in 2012. Merck's partnership with the ACS aims to raise awareness and strengthen advocacy around women's cancers.