Merck projects billions in sales of COVID drug

A technician holds blood samples to be tested for COVID-19 on Sept. 1 at Bellville Medical Center in Texas. Francois Picard/TNS

Merck & Co.’s closely watched COVID-19 antiviral molnupiravir could bring in as much as $7 billion in global sales through 2022, according to the drugmaker.

The figure includes up to $1 billion in revenue this year if the experimental drug is authorized in December, Chief Financial Officer Caroline Litchfield said early Thursday on a conference call. She projected at least $5 billion in sales by the end of next year, provided it’s cleared.

Molnupiravir has become one of the most highly anticipated coronavirus medications, as the pill is relatively cheap to make and easy to transport. Merck has taken steps to make sure that the drug will be distributed widely, including in low-income countries.

The drugmaker raised its annual forecast as it reported quarterly profit and revenue that beat Wall Street’s expectations. Adjusted earnings for the year will be $5.65 to $5.70 a share, up from the earlier guidance of $5.47 to $5.57, the drugmaker said in a statement. Revenue will be $47.4 billion to $47.9 billion, compared with the earlier guidance that topped out at $47.4 billion. The projections don’t include potential molnupiravir sales.

Quarterly adjusted earnings were $1.75 a share, beating analysts’ average estimate by 20 cents, according to a statement. Revenue was $13.2 billion, compared with Wall Street expectations of $12.3 billion.

Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP are seeking U.S. authorization of molnupiravir, their COVID antiviral. Merck said it plans to make at least 20 million treatment courses of the drug next year, on top of 10 million it expects to make by the end of 2021.

The drug may become one of Merck’s leading products. Merck’s blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda brought in more than $14 billion in sales last year, followed by the diabetes drug Januvia with around $5 billion and nearly $4 billion for HPV vaccine Gardasil.

Merck said vaccine revenue contributed to the third-quarter results. However, sales of its pneumococcal vaccine, Pneumovax 23, declined nearly 30%, “primarily driven by lower demand in the United States reflecting prioritization of the coronavirus vaccine.”

Sales of the papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil were $1.99 billion, topping estimates.

Sales of blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda and the diabetes medications Januvia and Janumet also beat Wall Street projections. Animal health sales were $1.42 billion, in line with expectations.

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