Merck quarterly profit beats estimates on Keytruda strength

U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co quarterly profit edged past Wall Street estimates on Friday, as its blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda brought in over $2 billion for the first time in a quarter.

Shares of the New Jersey-based company were up 1.6 percent at $75.65 in early trading.

Merck’s 2019 earnings and revenue forecast, however, failed to exceed Wall Street expectations, mirroring disappointing profit projections from major drugmakers such as Amgen and Pfizer.

Sales of Keytruda, the most important drug in Merck’s portfolio, rose 66 percent to $2.15 billion in fourth quarter, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $2.12 billion, according to IBES estimates from Refinitiv.

It surpassed sales of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co’s rival cancer drug Opdivo, which brought in $1.8 billion in quarterly sales, for a third straight quarter.

Among a class of medicines called PD-1 inhibitors, Keytruda has been driving much of Merck’s sales growth as it continues to produce positive clinical data and amass approvals for treating different types of cancers.

While it drove revenue growth, sales in diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet fell 4 percent to $1.47 billion in the quarter, and that in cholesterol-lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin fell 52 percent to $245 million.

Sales in herpes zoster prevention vaccine also fell to $54 million from $121 million, pressured by rival vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline, which was given preferential recommendation by a committee responsible for U.S. vaccination schedules over Zostavax in October.

“Merck’s in-line Q4 ’18 and 2019 guidance are solid, although underwhelming relative to consensus expectations,” said Citi Research analyst Andrew Baum.

Merck forecast 2019 revenue in the range of $43.2-$44.7 billion, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $44.53 billion.

Its 2019 adjusted earnings per share forecast was between $4.57 and $4.72, compared with analysts’ average estimate of $4.68 per share.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned $1.04 per share versus estimates of $1.03, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue rose 5.4 percent to $11 billion and was roughly in-line with analysts’ estimates of $10.99 billion.

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