Merck's Vytorin set for massive sales slide as generics hit

One by one, more than a dozen meds from top pharmas are expected to tumble over the patent cliff in 2017, dealing a series of blows to the industry's sales as pharma faces its biggest threat from generics for some years to come. The latest to fall? Merck’s cholesterol med Vytorin, which faces new competition from Teva and Impax Laboratories.

Teva and Impax each announced their generic Vytorin launches this week, targeting a Merck brand that brought in $473 million in U.S. sales last year, according to the New Jersey drugmaker, a figure that placed the med just outside of FiercePharma’s February report detailing the top 10 U.S. patent losses for this year.

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Analysts expect the brand to quickly cede sales to cheap knockoffs. Providing data on patent losses this year, life science commercial intelligence firm Evaluate in February predicted the drug’s sales will sharply fall to $151 million for this year, all the way down to $10 million in 2022.

But Vytorin's downfall is nothing compared to Merck's ongoing slide with Zetia, a big-selling cholesterol med that contains one of Vytorin's ingredients. Zetia lost patent protection late last year and is fighting off a generic entrant from Endo's Par Pharmaceutical. Together, Zetia and Vytorin turned in $3.7 billion in global 2016 sales. Leerink Partners analysts have predicted the pair will fall below $1 billion in sales by 2020.

Merck is far from alone in facing an important patent loss this year. Many of the New Jersey drugmaker’s pharma peers are set to hit expirations with their branded meds, including Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

RELATED: Big Pharma faces $26.5B in losses this year as next big patent cliff looms, analyst says

Top drugmakers face a total of $26.5 billion in sales at risk to copies this year, Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson wrote in a recent note. Merck’s Vytorin is among the group that includes Roche’s Rituxan, GSK’s Advair, Eli Lilly’s Humalog and Cialis, Pfizer’s Viagra and about a dozen other brands.

This year features the most patent losses—and annual sales at risk from patent losses—for Big Pharmas through 2025, according to the Bernstein report.

Vytorin, a combination of ezetimibe and simvastatin, won its initial FDA approval in 2004.