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Merck and Schering-Plough lifted by cholesterol joint venture

Published on 26/10/05 at 03:29pm

A marketing alliance between Merck and Schering-Plough has given the troubled companies some positive news to report.

Global sales of the co-marketed cholesterol-absorbing Zetia reached $1 billion in the first nine months of this year, a 39% increase from last year.  

Meanwhile Vytorin, a pill combining Merck's Zocor and Zetia, is also on track to hit blockbuster status by the end of the year after registering sales of $673 million in the first nine months of 2005.

Merck and Schering-Plough's co-promoted cholesterol-lowering drugs now occupy 13% of new prescriptions in the US and are quickly gaining ground in the market.

Although only launched a year ago in the US, Vytorin is establishing itself as a rising star of the lipid-lowering market and now has over 7% of new prescriptions in the US.

Vytorin was launched in the UK in June under the name Inegy.

In Europe, sales of Zetia (where the drug is marketed as Ezetrol) have risen to $356 million in the first nine months, a 21% increase from last year.

Despite the success, the drugs generate a fraction of the sales of Pfizer's market leading Lipitor, which had more than $12 billion in annual sales last year.

Schering-Plough's chief executive Fred Hassan cited the performance of Vytorin and Zetia as one of the highlights of the company's third quarter results.

Hassan said the company was in the midst of a successful turnaround after it reported a 15% rise in sales for the quarter.

Schering-Plough has been hit by serious manufacturing problems and a number of legal cases brought against it, but Hassan said the company would now look to expand its pipeline by buying or licensing new drugs.

"We will continue to seek out opportunities and demonstrate the qualities that Schering-Plough can bring as a licensing and co-marketing partner," commented Hassan.

Merck, meanwhile, under new chief executive Richard Clark, is potentially facing a tougher challenge ahead, with the threat of litigation over Vioxx a long-term problem.

Trials over injury claims concerning the arthritis drug are ongoing and a string of defeats would leave the company facing billions of dollars in liability.

But Merck's third quarter profits improved over last year's quarter, with net income rising 7% to $1.42 billion, despite sales falling 2% to $5.4 billion.

"We are focused on improving our core business fundamentals - specifically launching our anticipated new products, advancing the progression of our pipeline and reducing our cost structure over and above what has been achieved to date," said Clark.

The chief executive said that, despite fighting a wave of litigation, he was confident Merck would improve its performance over the long-term.

The company is in desperate need of new products, but has had mixed news from its late stage pipeline in recent weeks.

The FDA has requested additional safety information on Pargluva, a new phase III diabetes treatment co-developed with Bristol-Myers Squibb, the regulator raising concerns about its cardiovascular safety profile.

More promising news is emerging from Merck's vaccine business.

Phase III product Gardasil looks set to become the world's first ever vaccine for cervical cancer, with regulators now assessing its safety and efficacy.

The drug is expected to be launched next year, just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline's rival product Cervarix, and could earn the company $1.5 billion in peak sales.

The FDA approved another new Merck vaccine in September - Proquad, a four in one injection for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella.

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New cholesterol combination Inegy launched in UK

Thursday , June 23, 2005



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