Court spoons out good news for Merck investors

After having to swallow a pretty bitter pill last week from a bad earnings report and sorry looking forecast, Merck ($MRK) investors got a taste of sugar, about $2 billion worth.

A federal appeals court has upheld a patent that had shielded two of the company's top performers, cholesterol-reducing drugs Zetia and Vytorin, Bloomberg reports. The ruling slapped back efforts by Mylan ($MYL), Impax Laboratories ($IPXL) and Actavis ($ACT) to copy Vytorin. The drug is now protected until its patent expires in April 2017. Merck had earlier fought off a challenge from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA).

Merck's Ron Rogers told the news service that sales last year of Zetia were $1.3 billion and sales of Vytorin were $764 million. Vytorin combines Zetia with Merck's cholesterol drug Zocor but questions about whether it actually works any better than Zocor alone have dented sales. Vytorin's fourth-quarter sales of $186 million were down more than 37% from the year-earlier quarter. It was enough that analysts took note when Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier reported last week that company-wide 2012 earnings were off 7.3% and that he expected sales to remain flat this year.

Of course the real stinker in that report was the once-stellar asthma drug Singulair, which experienced a breathtaking 67% free fall in sales to $480 million after generics hit the street.

- read the Bloomberg story