Earnings season has made its way through many of big pharma's biggest names, but two of the industry's household players -- Merck (NYSE:MRK) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) -- are set to report their third-quarter performances next week. While both companies are fighting against the patent cliff, each has its own challenges and hopes ahead. 

Merck's struggling with a retooling after announcing it will cut back its extensive research and development division, a costly endeavor that some investors have called to be pared in the recent past. Merck's own pipeline has struggled to impress lately, and while Wall Street isn't expecting much this earnings season, this company needs to show it's on the right path to success. Pfizer, meanwhile, boasts of a strong pipeline headed forward, but can its potential blockbuster drugs, such as blood thinner Eliquis and inflammatory treatment Xeljanz, impress investors after a rocky 2013 so far?

Find out in the video below, where Fool contributor Dan Carroll tells you what to look for when Merck and Pfizer announce their earnings next week and what the roads ahead for each of these companies could hold.

Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.