Merck, Schering delay earnings for Vytorin update
By Ransdell Pierson NEW YORK (Reuters) - Merck & Co (MRK.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Schering-Plough (SGP.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) delayed the release of their quarterly financial results until after Monday's stock market close so investors could first learn the results of a new study of their shared Vytorin cholesterol fighter. The news set shares of Schering-Plough down nearly 9 percent, while Merck fell almost 4 percent. Results of the Vytorin study, called SEAS, will be presented at a scientific meeting in London at 1 p.m. EDT. The study compares the blockbuster medicine to placebo among patients with aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve that can lead to heart failure. An estimated 2 percent of people over age 65 have the condition. Both U.S. drug makers had planned to report second-quarter earnings before the market opened on Monday. Vytorin sales have suffered this year, and shares of Merck and Schering-Plough have fallen sharply, due to failure of the pill to cut plaque in neck arteries in a separate trial called Enhance. Widespread unfavorable publicity followed the January release of the Enhance results, and the study's researchers recommended that patients first try other cholesterol fighters before opting for Vytorin. Analysts have said if the new SEAS trial succeeds, it could help redeem Vytorin in the eyes of doctors and patients. But if it fails, they said, it could further tarnish the medicine.
Vytorin combines Merck's Zocor, or simvastatin, which cuts the body's production of "bad" LDL cholesterol, with a newer drug called Zetia (ezetimibe) that prevents the intestines from absorbing LDL. Merck said it was delaying its second-quarter earnings report until after the primary researcher for the SEAS trial, Dr. Terje Pedersen of Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo, Norway, presents clinical trial data from the study. A Schering-Plough spokesman declined to comment on the nature of Pedersen's update. Pedersen, in a press release of his own on Monday, said a half dozen European and U.S. scientists would participate in his presentation. Merck and Schering-Plough sell Vytorin, as well as Zetia, through a joint venture. The two drugs, with collective global annual sales of more than $4.5 billion, are Schering-Plough's biggest products and among the biggest for Merck. Schering-Plough shares were down 8.7 percent at $19.58 in early New York Stock Exchange trade, while Merck fell 3.6 percent to $36.31. Source Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/companyNews/idUSN213398732 0080721?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=10179