Merck exceeded expectations in the first quarter, thanks to sales of its long-running blockbuster against Keytruda cancer and new COVID-19 treatment, which also exceeded forecasts.
The drug maker raised its forecast for 2022 on Thursday after its treatment with coronavirus molnupivir brought nearly $ 3.2 billion in sales in the quarter.
Analysts expected $ 2.54 billion from the drug, which debuted late last year under the Lagevrio brand.
Merck has said it expects capsule sales this year to be $ 5 billion or more. But analysts are beginning to wonder if all the treatments Merck is doing will be used.
One analyst said Thursday in a conversation with company executives that some data shows that Paxlovid treatment from rival Pfizer is used much more often. The analyst noted that the U.S. had signed a contract to supply 3.1 million Lagevrio courses, and asked if the government was able to return unused portions.
CFO Caroline Lichfield said the company expects the approximately 6.4 million treatments it has conducted so far worldwide will be used over time, and the drugmaker remains “confident in our financial performance.”
She said the data they have access to shows that 500,000 people have used Lagevrio so far worldwide, and the use has been particularly strong outside the United States.
Governments are using and accumulating both Lagevrio, which is also produced by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, and Paxlovid, which has been shown to be more effective in clinical trials after an omicron outbreak of the virus filled hospitals earlier this year.
The treatment was seen as a breakthrough in the fight against the ongoing pandemic because they are effective and easier for patients to use than other drugs that require injections or intravenous infusions.
The drugs are used to treat patients who are most at risk of being hospitalized for the virus.
Both Lagevrio and Paxlovid need to be used shortly after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, and US President Joe Biden insists on expanding their availability.
Treatment is free for patients in the United States
Excluding Lagevrio, Merck said its pharmaceutical revenue continued to grow 18% in the first quarter. Keytruda sales rose 23% to $ 4.81 billion.
Overall, Merck’s revenue rose 36% to $ 4.31 billion.
Adjusted earnings, excluding one-time items, were $ 2.14 per share. Total sales jumped 50% to $ 15.9 billion.
Analysts expected an average earnings of $ 1.83 per share on revenue of about $ 14.55 billion for the quarter.
The company also said Thursday that it is raising and narrowing its forecast for the year. Merck now expects adjusted earnings of $ 7.24 to $ 7.36 per share after forecasting $ 7.12 to $ 7.27 per share in February.
Analysts expect earnings of $ 7.28 per share, according to FactSet.
Shares of Merck & Co. Inc., based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, rose more than 3% to $ 87.38 late Thursday morning. The Dow Jones industrial index, of which Merck is a component, has risen slightly.
Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thpmurphy