Pharma giant Merck raises 2020 outlook, saying the worst of the coronavirus impact is behind it


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Pharmaceutical giant Merck beat Wall Street expectations in the second quarter and raised its overall earnings guidance for the year, saying Friday that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind it. 

The company, which is racing to develop two potential vaccines as well as a treatment to fight Covid-19, told investors that the “majority of the negative impact” hit its earnings during the second quarter. It expects a gradual recovery to continue through the third quarter “with a return to normal operating levels in the fourth quarter.” 

The company’s shares rose by more than 2% in premarket trading. The Covid-19 pandemic cost Merck $1.6 billion during the quarter as fewer people visited the doctors office. Sales of its blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda helped offset an 8% decline in revenue to $10.87 billion during the three months ended June 30 from $11.76 billion from a year ago. 

The New Jersey-based company previously warned that the coronavirus will hit its 2020 sales as the pandemic prevented people from visiting doctor’s offices in the second quarter. Two-thirds of the company’s products, including its popular cancer drug Keytruda, are administered by physicians, Chief Financial Officer Robert Davis said during the company’s first-quarter conference call.

Keytruda’s sales jumped 29% to $3.9 billion from $2.36 billion the year before. 

Here’s how the company performed versus what Wall Street expected, based on average analysts estimates compiled by Refinitiv.

  • Adjusted EPS: $1.37 versus $1.04 expected.
  • Revenue: $10.87 versus $10.39 billion expected.

Merck is among several companies working to develop Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics, although the company jumped into the race later than many of its competitors, including pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

Merck acquired Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, which is developing a Covid-19 vaccine with Institut Pasteur and the University of Pittsburgh. The company said Friday clinical trials for the candidate are scheduled to begin in the third quarter. 

It’s also collaborating with scientific research nonprofit IAVI on a separate Covid-19 vaccine. The company also announced a collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop an oral antiviral therapeutic against Covid-19. Merck said Friday clinical trials for this vaccine candidate will begin later this year. 

Julie Gerberding, chief patient officer for Merck, told Congress on July 21 that the company would not sell its vaccines at cost if approved by regulators, although she added that the company’s “a long way from understanding the cost-basis.”  Merck has yet to begin human trials for its vaccine candidates, well behind some competitors like Moderna and Pfizer, which began their late-stage human trials on Monday. 

Executives from the company will detail results on a 8:00 a.m. ET call on Friday.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates. 

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