With Zostavax supplies restored, Merck aims for revival

Merck ($MRK) is looking for a Zostavax comeback. After manufacturing problems constricted supplies for several years, the U.S.-based drugmaker has filled back orders and restored ongoing supplies, The Wall Street Journal reports, clearing the way for a renewed sales push.

To support Zostavax's revival, the company has started a disease-awareness campaign to focus attention on shingles, a painful condition caused by a later-in-life flare-up of chickenpox virus. Zostavax is FDA-approved to cut the risk of shingles in adults 50 and older; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for Americans 60-plus.

"Getting people protected against shingles is a big opportunity in the U.S.," Merck Vaccines chief Julie Gerberding told the WSJ. "We owe it to our customers to get the vaccine out there."

And to be frank, Merck owes it to itself: Analysts predict that Zostavax could break $1 billion in sales within a few years, and with generic competition for Singulair looming, the company can use the boost. To maximize Zostavax's potential, though, Merck will need to demonstrate that it can keep supplies coming: The CDC says it may expand its recommendation to younger adults, provided production remains strong.

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