Prescriptions for Merck's Singulair Plunge After Loss of U.S. Patent
09/11/2012| 01:11pm US/Eastern
By Peter Loftus
Weekly prescriptions for Merck & Co.'s (>> Merck & Co., Inc.) asthma and allergy treatment Singulair plunged nearly 90% within four weeks of the August introduction of competing generic copies, a Merck executive said Tuesday.
"There's been a rapid decline and loss of sales," Adam H. Schechter, president of Merck's global human-health unit, told investors at a Morgan Stanley health-care conference in New York.
Weekly prescriptions for branded Singulair declined 87% four weeks after the early August loss of U.S. patent protection for the drug, according to a slide presented by Mr. Schechter. The patent loss triggered the introduction of lower-priced, generic versions of the drug from multiple manufacturers including Mylan Inc. (>> Mylan Inc.) and Endo Health Solutions (>> Endo Health Solutions Inc).
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., anticipated a rapid decline in prescriptions but it might have occurred slightly faster than expected. In July, Mr. Schechter told analysts that historical precedent suggested it would take two months for Singulair to lose 90% of its U.S. market share.
Singulair had been Merck's top-selling drug, generating $5.5 billion in revenue for 2011.
The Singulair patent expiration is among several headwinds facing Merck's business, Mr. Schechter said. He cited higher costs and regulatory complexity surrounding drug development, pricing pressure and government austerity measures as additional challenges.
However, Mr. Schechter said Merck continues to enjoy strong sales growth for other drugs including diabetes treatments Januvia and Janumet. He also highlighted some potentially promising drugs in Merck's research-and-development pipeline, including insomnia-drug suvorexant and osteoporosis-treatment odanacatib, which could contribute to future sales growth.
Merck shares were recently ahead 18 cents to $44.43.
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