Erbitux fails another trial, threatening Merck's hoped-for expansion

It's another stumble for Erbitux. The cancer drug failed its second phase III trial in as many months, Merck KGaA said, setting back the company's efforts to expand its use into stomach cancer. In May, Erbitux fell short in adjuvant treatment after colon-cancer surgery.

The latest study showed that Erbitux didn't hold off stomach-tumor growth for longer than standard chemotherapy. Merck had hoped that positive data would lead to a new indication for its second-best-selling drug. Analysts estimated that a gastric-cancer indication would be worth up to €300 million in additional sales. Last year, Erbitux brought in €855 million.

Analysts shook their heads in dismay at the data. "Today's news is adding to the accumulation of recent failures at product approvals and study results" at Merck, National-Bank analyst Steffen Manske said (as quoted by The Wall Street Journal).

Equinet's Edouard Aubery called it "another disappointment for Merck's pipeline."

To Kepler Capital Markets analyst Martin Voegtli, "This brings us exactly back to the roots of Merck's current problems: Slow or declining key drug franchises and weak pipeline to offset future sales declines.

And JPMorgan Chase's Richard Vosser simply said, "We now see limited growth for Erbitux going forward."

Voegtli also has little hope for Merck's application to market Erbitux for lung cancer in Europe, Bloomberg reports. After regulators raised questions about that application, the company said its chances of gaining EU approval for that use were less than 50%. Voegtli's opinion of those chances? "[E]ssentially zero."

- get the Bloomberg story
- read the WSJ article

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