Dive Insight:

Merck’s external search for a new head of Human Health International led back to a company veteran. Romanelli first joined Merck in 1996 and served in a variety of roles before departing for Ji Xing in 2021.

The hiring also highlights the importance of the Chinese market for Merck. Under Romanelli’s leadership, China became Merck’s second-biggest single-country market. The company’s sales in the country jumped to $4.4 billion in 2021 from $2.8 billion the previous year. (Sales across Europe, the Middle East and Africa totaled $13.3 billion.)

While China offers major opportunities for Merck, the market is also full of challenges. The country’s government is working to speed the regulatory process so more new medicines become available, but it’s also pushing for lower costs. Drugmakers face the prospect of price reductions of 60% or more in the market, according to a recent Merck financial filing.

Romanelli will be joining a human health business that has faced turnover in recent years. The former president of the business, Frank Clyburn, left in February, a little more than a year after taking over the job from Michael Nally.

As head of Merck’s $22 billion Human Health International business, Romanelli will oversee more than 75 markets outside the U.S. and about 14,000 employees, the company said.