Gardasil leads the charge as Merck vaccines soar in Q3

With some key meds falling short of expectations in the third quarter, Merck’s ($MRK) vaccines turned in impressive sales to help carry the drug giant to overall growth.

All told, Merck’s vaccines reeled in just over $2 billion in the third quarter, a significant leap--27%--from last year’s $1.59 billion. To get there, the unit saw sizable increases from HPV vaccine Gardasil, pneumococcal vaccine Pneumovax 23 and in MMR/varicella vaccines.

What accounted for the vaccines growth? For the Gardasil franchise, which expanded sales 38% over the same period last year to $860 million, it was “increased pricing and demand,” as well as the timing of public sector purchases. Gardasil beat analyst estimates by more than $200 million.

Over the period, competitor GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) pulled a rival HPV vaccine, Cervarix, from the U.S. market due to “very low” demand, handing Merck complete control of that market. Now, the company pharma will be watching closely to see how brand new recommendations from the CDC for a two-dose HPV vaccine schedule will affect sales. Public health officials continue to work to boost lagging U.S. HPV vaccination rates.

Proquad and other MMR/varicella vaccines, which grew 27% over last year’s third quarter to $496 million, also benefited from sales timing relating to pediatric stockpiling. Pneumovax 23 sales jumped 27% to $175 million for the period.

Merck’s strong vaccines performance came as key products elsewhere in its portfolio--notably Keytruda, Januvia and Zepatier--turned in sales lower than analyst expectations.

For the New Jersey-based company, which EvaluatePharma recently predicted to trail other leading players GSK, Sanofi ($SNY) and Pfizer ($PFE) in 2022 vaccine sales, the results come following a Q2 in which it grew sales in the category by just 1%.

But the company could soon see a shakeup in shingles, where its Zostavax grew sales 6% on the quarter to $190 million. Just this week, GSK filed an application with the FDA for its Shingrix, which GSK vaccines head Moncef Slaoui said will be a “major” market disruptor if it’s able to secure approval. Analysts expect to see more than $1 billion in peak sales for that shot.

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