Merck's Rebif held its own in last year's MS market shakeup. What about 2015?


With oral rivals lurking for Rebif, the leading drug from Merck KGaA, the good news for the German pharma is that the news isn't that bad.

Sales of the med, used to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis, dipped ever-so-slightly in 2014, decreasing -0.2% to €1.8 billion. That performance kept overall sales afloat, helping Merck's life sciences business grow by 3.6% to €5.87 billion for the year. Overall, the company took in €11.5 billion.

Rebif has been up against some pretty stiff competition lately, with a trio of pills stepping in to steal the spotlight. All three--Novartis' ($NVS) Gilenya, Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) Tecfidera and Sanofi's ($SNY) Aubagio--cracked the ranks of the top 10 MS treatments in 2013, though seventh-place Tecfidera has been gobbling up market share fastest.

Merck knows what it's up against, and last March, it notified investors that it had launched "strategies for defending market share." Seven months later, the company announced that Rebif sales had actually grown 1.3% in Q3, suggesting those tactics may have worked.  

But the Darmstadt-based pharma's management doesn't expect its good fortune to last forever. Looking at 2015, Merck said its underlying core earnings would stay flat or grow just slightly amid the MS market-share battle.

"We are a little bit cautious because we are facing some adverse impacts in 2015, which are first and foremost strong competitive pressure against our biggest product--Rebif," Merck CFO Marcus Kuhnert told CNBC.

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