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Merck to Launch New Diabetes Drug

Merck confirmed plans to submit a new drug for diabetics to the Food and Drug Administration for approval next year.
Their sales for Vytori, a new cholesterol-lowering drug, buoyed profits at Merck in the third quarter, the company said yesterday.
While Merck’s overall sales fell by 2 per cent for the quarter compared with last year’s third quarter, profit rose 7 per cent and slightly topped analysts’ forecasts. Merck said profit for all of 2005 would be in line with analysts’ expectations.
Merck’s relatively benign report came less than a week after Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, reported that its third-quarter sales had fallen 5 percent and said that full-year profits would fall short of Wall Street’s expectations.
Shares of Merck, the third-largest drug maker in the United States, gained more than 3 percent on the day, closing at $27, up 82 cents.
Still, Merck’s stock remains near an eight-year low, mainly because of concerns about lawsuits related to Vioxx, a once-popular painkiller that Merck stopped selling last year after a clinical trial linked it to heart attacks and strokes. Merck said yesterday that it now faced lawsuits from 11,700 plaintiffs who claim that they or their family members were injured or killed by Vioxx.
In the first Vioxx lawsuit to reach a jury, Merck was ordered in August to pay $253 million to the widow of a Texas man who died after taking Vioxx for almost eight months. Under Texas law, that amount would be reduced to $26.2 million, and Merck has filed an appeal. The second Vioxx trial is in its seventh week in Atlantic City.
In addition, Merck will soon face low-price generic competition in the United States on Zocorn, a cholesterol-lowering drug that is its best-selling medicine, with $3.3 billion in sales so far this year. Merck’s American patent on simvastati, the active ingredient in Zocorn, expires next June.
Zocor’s sales are falling as Merck moves instead to promote Vytori, which Merck jointly makes and markets with Schering-Plough. Vytorin is a combination of Zocor and Zetia, another new cholesterol-lowering medicine that Merck and Schering jointly market.
Sales of both Vytorin and Zetia as a stand-alone drug are growing rapidly, Judy C. Lewent, Merck’s chief financial officer, said during a conference call. The two drugs had combined sales of $630 million in the quarter.
Over all, Merck said third-quarter sales were $5.4 billio, down from $5.5 billion in the period in 2004. Excluding the effects of the withdrawal of Vioxx and currency fluctuations, sales were basically flat. Profit was $1.4 billio, or 65 cents a share, compared with $1.3 billio, or 60 cents a share, last year.
Merck said its profit for all of 2005 would be $2.47 to $2.51 a share, excluding a one-time charge of 29 cents a share for repatriating $15 billion in profits the company had sheltered in tax havens overseas.

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