Merck Boosts Outlook as Keytruda Sales Surpass Diabetes Drugs

(Bloomberg) -- Merck & Co.’s newest cancer medicine surpassed sales of its blockbuster diabetes franchise for the first time, as the pharmaceutical giant boosted its sales outlook for the year.

The drugmaker’s Keytruda, which helps patients’ immune systems attack tumors, generated $1.46 billion in sales in the first quarter, according to a news release on Tuesday, more than doubling from a year earlier.

Keytruda’s sales topped analysts’ expectations of $1.38 billion and outpaced sales of its diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet, which had a combined $1.42 billion in sales, also exceeding analysts’ estimates.

Newly diagnosed lung cancer patients receiving Keytruda in combination with other standard-of-care drugs lived significantly longer than patients receiving the same therapies without Keytruda, data presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting last month show.

Lung cancer causes more than 150,000 U.S. deaths each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and analysts expect Keytruda will shape up to be a mega-blockbuster for Merck. The company says it is evaluating the therapy across more than 30 tumor types and that Keytruda is involved in more than 700 clinical trials.

Merck said it now expects revenue for the full year of between $41.8 billion and $43 billion, up from an earlier forecast for sales of as much as $42.7 billion. The Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company also raised expectations for its 2018 earnings to a range of $4.16 to $4.28 a share, from an earlier estimate of $4.20. The company reported adjusted earnings in the first quarter of $1.05.

Revenue in the just-ended quarter totaled $10 billion, missing analysts’ expectations of $10.1 billion. Pharmaceutical sales rose 9 percent on the back of growth in Merck’s oncology, acute-care and diabetes pipeline, the company said in the news release.

Merck shares, which were up 4.6 percent this year through Monday’s close, gained 0.5 percent in premarket trading in New York.

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