Merck has strong fourth quarter as COVID-19 treatment debuts

Feb 2, 2022, 2:15 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2022, 9:06 am
FILE - This undated photo provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication molnupiravir...

FILE - This undated photo provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication molnupiravir. Pfizer's and Merck's COVID-19 pills that were supposed to be an important weapon against the pandemic in the U.S. are in short supply and have played little role in the fight against the omicron wave of infections. (Merck & Co. via AP, File)

(Merck & Co. via AP, File)

The blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda pushed Merck past fourth-quarter expectations, and the drugmaker’s COVID-19 treatment debuted by adding nearly $1 billion in sales.

Sales for the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus, also jumped 50%, Merck said Thursday.

U.S. regulators approved Merck’s molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid to fight COVID-19 late last year. The antiviral pills were hailed an easy-to-use medication to battle the rising tide of omicron infections, and Merck quickly began shipping out courses of treatment.

Both treatments are free to patients in the U.S. after being purchased by the federal government.

Molnupiravir, which Merck developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, brought in $952 million during the fourth quarter, mostly with sales in the U.S., United Kingdom and Japan.

Company leaders said Thursday they expect that total to grow to between $5 billion and $6 billion this year, based on current supply agreements.

The company expects to have shipped out more than 4 million courses of treatment within the next few days, with most of that going to the U.S. government.

The drugmaker also saw sales grow 15% to $4.58 billion for the cancer treatment Keytruda, while Gardasil revenue jumped to $1.53 billion.

Overall, Merck earned $3.76 billion in the final quarter of 2021 as sales jumped 24% to $13.52 billion. Adjusted earnings, which exclude items like investment income or losses, totaled $1.80 per share, far exceeding Wall Street’s per-share projections of $1.53, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Merck sales also topped analyst revenue expectations of $13.16 billion.

For 2022, the drugmaker expects adjusted earnings of $7.12 to $7.27 per share on $56.1 billion to $57.6 billion in revenue.

Wall Street has been projecting earnings of $7.30 per share on $56.71 billion in revenue.

Shares of Merck & Co., based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, fell about 3%, or $2.37, to $79.61 in late-morning trading Thursday, while broader indexes also slipped.

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Merck has strong fourth quarter as COVID-19 treatment debuts