Cancer drug Keytruda, vaccines propel Merck to quarterly profit beat

Cancer drug Keytruda, vaccines propel Merck to quarterly profit beat

U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc reported a 56.4per cent rise in second-quarter profit on Tuesday, boosted by strong demand for its Keytruda immunotherapy, the dominant treatment for lung cancer, as well as higher sales of its vaccines.

FILE PHOTO: The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Linden, New Jersey
FILE PHOTO: The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Linden, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

REUTERS: Merck & Co Inc reported higher-than-expected second-quarter profit and revenue and raised its full-year earnings forecast on Tuesday, powered by strong demand for its blockbuster cancer immunotherapy Keytruda and vaccine sales.

Merck shares were up more than 2per cent at US$84.31 in morning trading.

Sales of Keytruda surged 58per cent to US$2.63 billion in the quarter, ahead of Wall Street estimates for about US$2.5 billion.

A series of positive clinical data for Keytruda and setbacks for its biggest rival - Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's Opdivo - has led to a dominant position for Merck's drug as an initial treatment for advanced lung cancer, the most lucrative oncology market.

Keytruda, Merck's most important growth driver, has now racked up U.S. approvals to treat numerous cancer types since it as first approved for advanced melanoma in 2014.

"We right now have built a wall of data that we feel very comfortable with," Chief Commercial Officer Franklin Clyburn said on a conference call with analysts.

Some investors have raised concerns about Merck over-reliance on Keytruda and have looked for a large deal to lessen that dependence, along the lines of AbbVie's US$63 billion deal for Allergan Plc .

But analysts have forecast continued strong Keytruda growth for several years.

Merck Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Frazier reiterated that Merck would focus on "bolt-on" deals rather than a large, transformative acquisition.

"We do look across the spectrum in terms of size for bolt-ons," Frazier said. "We don't divide it by a dollar amount."

Sales of Merck's Gardasil vaccine to prevent cancers associated with the human papillomavirus jumped 45.7per cent to US$886 million, helped by both demand and a U.S. price increase.

Overall vaccine sales rose 33per cent to US$2 billion, also boosted by the company's measles-mumps-rubella shot amid the worst U.S. measles outbreak since 1992.

The U.S. drugmaker increased its forecast for 2019 adjusted earnings, raising the midpoint by 16 cents. Merck now expects to earn between US$4.84 and US$4.94 per share, up from its prior view of US$4.67 to US$4.79.

Excluding items, Merck earned US$1.30 per share, beating the average analysts' estimate by 14 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Merck said net income for the quarter rose to US$2.67 billion, or US$1.03 per share, from US$1.71 billion, or 63 cents per share, a year earlier.

Sales rose 12.4per cent to US$11.76 billion, beating Wall Street estimates of US$10.96 billion.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Bill Berkrot)

Source: Reuters