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Merck: Same Plan, With a Twist

By Brian Orelli, PhD - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 8:00PM

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Generic biotech drugs? Really?

Next year may not be Merck's (NYSE:MRK) year, but at least the company has a plan to grow.

It kind of looks like every other pharmaceutical company's plan. But with a twist.

With increasing generic competition and languishing sales of cholesterol-lowering drugs Vytorin and Zetia, which it markets with Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP), the company is doing its best to replace sales by pushing drugs through its pipeline. It has nine drugs in phase 3 testing and expects to file marketing applications for three drugs next year.

Like GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Merck is also planning on moving into emerging markets to make a little extra off of drugs it has already developed. It seems like every pharmaceutical company CEO is touting the emerging markets as the next big thing, but at this point I doubt it'll bring in much more than pocket change for the companies. The emerging markets are a great long-term plan, but until they actually emerge, they're not likely to be a saving grace for the industry.

The big surprise from Tuesday's meeting with analysts is that Merck plans to get into follow-on biologics (biologics are drugs made from cells, rather than chemical processes). The company is behind Teva Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ:TEVA), Novartis (NYSE:NVS), and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories (NYSE:RDY), which already have copycats of biologic drugs on the market in Europe and India, but Merck may have time to catch up. Congress still needs to establish a pathway for approval of follow-on biologics, and then the Food and Drug Administration needs to implement the system. Given the speed at which the government moves, Merck's goal of launching six or more generic biotech products from 2012 through 2017 should be right on target.

I'm having trouble being a Merck bull because I can't see any near-term catalyst to help the company break out of its funk. But long term, investors should remember that this company recovered from losing Vioxx, and it'll likely get back to greatness again -- eventually.

Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. To see how dividend-paying stocks can offer both secure income and the opportunity for growth, take a free look at this newsletter with a 30-day trial. 

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is also an Inside Value selection, and the Fool owns shares of it. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Merck & Co., Inc. Stock Quote
Merck & Co., Inc.
$91.04 (0.50%) $0.45
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$49.27 (-1.18%) $0.59
Novartis AG Stock Quote
Novartis AG
$85.22 (-0.70%) $0.60
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Limited Stock Quote
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Limited
$10.01 (-9.25%) $-1.02
GSK Stock Quote
$34.70 (-1.59%) $0.56
Dr. Reddy's Laboratories Limited Stock Quote
Dr. Reddy's Laboratories Limited
$52.19 (-3.14%) $-1.69

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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