January 21, 2010
So much for Schering-Plough stocking Merck's (NYSE: MRK ) pipeline to help it bring drugs to market. Two months into their marriage, Merck is killing plans to file for Food and Drug Administration approval of one of Schering-Plough's lead drugs.
The HIV drug, vicriviroc, failed two phase 3 trials testing the drug in patients that had stopped responding to other HIV treatments. Investors should get a little more information on the exact nature of the failure when data is presented at a medical meeting next month.
Merck made the announcement in the FAQ section of its investors webpage, which seems like an odd place to announce such a critical piece of information. Wonder how the topic became a "frequently asked question" if no one knew the data from the trials was complete? You might think the cost of issuing a press release had gone up substantially, but considering the endless number of press releases that some baby biotechs issue, I doubt that's the reason.
Vicriviroc is still in phase 2 trials for patients that have never been on HIV medications before, but that'll be a tough sell even if vicriviroc works in that patient population. Doctors are more likely to stick with first-line treatments that they know work like those from Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD ) , Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY ) , and Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) rather than using a new unknown treatment on recently diagnosed patients. That's why Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) got their HIV drugs -- Intelence and Selzentry respectively -- approved for patients that have already failed other treatments; the treatment population may be smaller, but so is the competition.
We should probably hold off on calling Merck's $41 billion purchase a complete failure for now. It was just one compound after all. Still the development of Merck's newly stocked pipeline is something that investors will have to keep their eye on.
That, and the FAQ section of its website.
Tim Hanson wants to know if you missed this stock.