If you're going to invest in the high-risk, high-reward stakes of heart drugs, you've got to be ready for the crashes. Merck's
On the recommendation of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board overseeing the two clinical studies that Merck is conducting with vorapaxar, one of them -- codenamed Tracer -- is being stopped, and another trial called TRA-2P will be scaled back to exclude patients who have previously had a stroke.
Merck didn't say exactly why the trials were being stopped, but many people -- this Fool included -- think excessive bleeding is the likely culprit. Bleeding is often a problem with these anticlotting agents because it's hard to hit the small window where you keep a clot from forming but don't go too far and cause bleeding.
Even if a reduction in heart attacks by vorapaxar makes up for the increased bleeding, doctors might not prescribe it. Eli Lilly's
The knockdown yesterday was well deserved. Merck -- and Schering-Plough, before Merck bought it -- spent a lot of money on vorapaxar in hopes of it becoming a multibillion-dollar drug. That seems unlikely at this point.
But the loss isn't a complete knockout for Merck, either. Investing in heart drugs, which require large clinical trials, may be risky, but Merck has a decent pipeline of drugs. If it can get a hit, especially for a drug such as odanacatib in the large osteoporosis market, Merck's shares could be headed in the other direction.
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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.