Merck Reports Progress On The Cancer Front As It Prepares For Keytruda Patent Expiration

After topping expectations with first quarter revenue and adjusted earnings last week, Merck & Co Inc MRK just reported encouraging data from its Phase III gastric cancer treatment trial after ending 2023 with good news from its combined treatment with Moderna Inc MRNA in fighting melanoma.

Merck reported improvement in cancer patients receiving its Keytruda regimen.

Enrolling 698 subjects, the trial evaluated the effect of a treatment that combines Merck’s immunotherapy blockbuster, Keytruda, along with trastuzumab and chemotherapy on patients suffering from gastric or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) adenocarcinoma. The final also confirmed that Merck’s Keytruda combination regimen led to a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement, meeting the dual primary endpoint of overall survival.

Merck reported strong first quarter results.

With strong sales of its blockbuster immune-based cancer drug, Keytruda, along with vaccine products, Merck reported revenue rose 9% YoY to $15.78 billion, surpassing LSEG’s estimate of $15.20 billion. Net income for the first three months of the year amounted to $4.76 billion, or $1.87 per share. Excluding acquisitions and restructuring costs, adjusted earnings amounted to $2.07 per share, surpassing $1.88 per share that LSEG expected. 

The pharmaceutical unit reported revenue grew 10% YoY to $14.01 billion, with Keytruda alone bringing in $6.95 billion of those sales as its revenue grew as much as 20% YoY, surpassing even FactSet’s estimate of $6.71 billion. The rise is owed to increased uptake from cancer patients at earliest stages of cancer, along with continued demand for treating metastatic cancers. HPV prevention vaccine, Gardasil, also reported a 14% YoY rise in sales as it brought $2.25 billion to the revenue table. Pneumococcal disease prevention vaccine, Vaxneuvance, also posted remarkable growth of 106% YoY as sales amounted to $219 million.

On the other hand, Covid antiviral pill Lagevrio and Type 2 diabetes treatment Januvia, reported sales dropped. Lagevrio reported sales dropped 11% to $350 million, joining the same trend posted by Pfizer and Moderna as COVID-19 now seems to be history. Januvia posted a 24% YoY drop in sales as revenue amounted to $670 million due to falling demand in the U.S., lower prices and generic competition.

New deals and drug launches to offset Keytruda’s patent expiration.

All in all, Merck showed it is making substantial progress in preparing for 2028’s patent expiration of its blockbuster drug, which will likely dent sales. Besides Winrevair that has been approved in the U.S. last month for treating progressive and life-threatening lung condition. In December, Merck and Moderna presented positive results from the combination of Keytruda and their experimential mRNA vaccine for melanoma, halving relapse risk. Although it was mid-term data from the 3-year follow-up, Merck and Moderna provided hope that mRNA could revolutionize cancer treatment. Moderna director, Stéphane Bancel, hinted that the mRNA vaccine for melanoma could be available as early as 2025. Moreover, after these promising results, Moderna and Merck expanded their research scope to evaluate the effect of the treatment against non-small lung cancer.

mRNA already saved the world during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis and now, it promises to do the same with what seems to be pharma’s never-ending health-battle. Keytruda’s patent will expire but Merck did all it can to make sure it continues to contribute to a healthier society. Along with cutting costs under a restructuring program it kicked off in February, Merck is securing its financial existance and future with new deals and promising drug launches.

DISCLAIMER: This content is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as investing advice.

This article is from an unpaid external contributor. It does not represent Benzinga's reporting and has not been edited for content or accuracy.

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