NEW JERSEY: Merck & Co today forecast a sharp decline in sales of its Covid-19 antiviral pill as the pandemic eases globally.
The company estimated sales of molnupiravir, which is sold under the brand Lagevrio, to fall to about US$1 billion this year from US$5.68 billion in 2022.
The lower forecast for the Covid drug is the latest signal that a boost to global drugmakers from the pandemic is fading.
Roche also warned today that profits will decline in 2023 due to falling demand for its Covid-19 therapy and diagnostics kits.
Merck also forecast 2023 earnings below analysts’ estimates on a tax hit from a recent acquisition.
The company said it expects adjusted earnings of US$6.80 to US$6.95 per share, lower than analysts’ average estimate of US$7.36.
The US drugmaker’s shares were down 3% in premarket trade.
Revenue is projected to be US$57.2 billion to US$58.7 billion, compared with expectations of US$58.1 billion.
The earnings forecast was hit by taxes that Merck will have to pay on the US$1.35 billion acquisition of cancer drug developer Imago BioSciences, the company said.
The company, however, reported higher than expected fourth-quarter earnings on strong sales of its Covid-19 pill in Asia.
Sales in the quarter were US$13.83 billion, up from US$13.52 billion a year earlier.
Analysts had expected sales of US$13.67 billion, according to Refinitiv data.
Excluding items, Merck earned US$1.62 per share, exceeding Wall Street expectations of US$1.54, according to Refinitiv.
Sales of molnupiravir were US$825 million in the quarter, compared with estimates of around US$358 million.
Merck chief executive Rob Davis said the pandemic wave that moved through Asia in the fourth quarter drove sales of molnupiravir, particularly in Japan, South Korea and other areas of the Asia Pacific region.
“That really was the strength, and we’ve seen very good demand for Lagevrio in those markets,” Davis said in an interview.
“In Japan, we are a market leader.”
The drug was not approved for use in China until Dec 30, so sales there were not a factor in the fourth quarter.
Sales of Merck’s blockbuster cancer immunotherapy, Keytruda, rose 19% to US$5.45 billion, largely in line with estimates.
The human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil had sales of US$1.47 billion, slightly underperforming expectations.