After Pfizer came under presidential fire for price hikes this summer, Merck & Co. promised to pump the brakes on its own increases. Now, it’s pushing up stickers on a handful of therapies—including a couple of top sellers—but maintains that it’s still keeping its word.
The company raised prices for its top-sellers Keytruda to treat cancer and HPV vaccine Gardasil by 1.5% and 6%, respectively. Three other vaccines received price hikes. Keytruda has already generated $5 billion in sales this year, while Gardasil has pulled in more than $2.3 billion as of Merck's third-quarter results.
A Merck spokeswoman said the moves are "fully consistent with Merck’s commitment to not increase net price across our product portfolio in the U.S. by more than inflation annually."
She added that Merck "remains committed to responsibly pricing our medicines, as our company always has been."
The moves follow Merck’s commitment in July to not raise average net prices by more than the rate of inflation. At the time, Credit Suisse analyst Vamil Divan wrote that it’s not much of a strategy change “as we do not believe they have been getting much more than this level of net pricing in recent years anyway.”
Last year, Merck's average net prices actually declined, according to the company's spokeswoman.
In its July pricing commitment, Merck also said it would reduce certain prices, such as a 60% slash to its list price for hepatitis C drug Zepatier. After a closer look, one analyst pointed out that Zepatier has struggled against competition and doesn’t generate significant sales for the company. Additionally, Merck pledged price reductions for six other “tiny” drugs by sales, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote at the time.
Merck’s latest move to raise list prices comes as Pfizer gets ready to implement 41 of its own increases early next year. That drugmaker came under scrutiny from Trump this summer when it moved to raise dozens of prices. Trump tweeted that Pfizer “should be ashamed” and the company ended up deferring its hikes.
On a recent conference call, CEO Ian Read said the company would likely be ready to return to “business as normal” on pricing in January; this month, the company laid out its plan for the increases. Pfizer plans list price increases of 5% on 37 drugs, plus a 9% hike for one med and 3% increases on three drugs. Together, the 41 drugs getting price hikes represent about a tenth of the company’s portfolio.
Amid Pfizer’s pricing firestorm this summer, Novartis and Roche also pledged to hold off price hikes this year.