Merck has to trim outlook as pipeline poops out

CEO Kenneth Frazier

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier today had to give shareholders the bad news and then he had to follow that up with the really bad news.

Profit fell 7.3% in the fourth quarter as generics ate the lunch of its once-stellar asthma drug Singulair, The Wall Street Journal reports. Sales fell a breathtaking 67% to $480 million for the blockbuster. Merck ($MRK) also saw sales decline for cholesterol drug Vytorin and the hypertension drugs Cozaar and Hyzaar. Frazier forecast that revenue this year will be about at 2012 levels, which were down 2% to $47.3 billion when the company couldn't come up with products to fill in after Singulair, Bloomberg reports.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Frazier had to tell investors that one of its most promising drugs under development, a treatment for osteoporosis, will not be ready for application until next year because it needs further study. Analysts, the WSJ points out, have big expectations for odanacatib but the delay raises questions about whether it will get off the ground or produce if it does.

The company has already seen its cholesterol drug Tredaptive fall out of the earnings picture after it failed in a large clinical trial and had to be removed from the market in Europe where it had already been approved. And as Bloomberg points out, Merck and partner Ariad Pharmaceuticals had a cancer drug turned back by regulators last year, saying it needed more study. The company does have 5 drugs slated to come up for approval this year.

Frazier said the company still believes in the potential of its pipeline but he said he would consider picking up some drugs from elsewhere if the right opportunity presents itself. The report wasn't all doom and gloom. Merck's diabetes treatments Januvia and Janumet continued to turn in good results, as did its anti-inflammatory drug Remicade. 

- here's the WSJ story (sub. req.)
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