Merck Rides High (For Now) on HIV Study, Earnings

Although by no means a cure, a cancer drug has possibly brought researchers a step closer to completely eliminating the HIV virus, according to a study in the scientific journal Nature.

A dose of Merck’s skin cancer chemotherapy drug vorinostat, marketed as Zolinza, seemed to expose the virus, which typically remains hidden in the body. The study was a collaboration between Merck, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the Harvard School of Public Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the University of California-San Diego.

"We believe that the disruption and clearance of these virus reservoirs is a critical first step to the daunting challenge of finding a cure for HIV/AIDS," Daria Hazuda, PhD, vice president, Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement.

However, the researchers themselves were quick to admit the results were tentative at best. Only one does of Zolinza was given to just eight patients.

"We just wanted to show that we could get the virus to come out and show itself," study author David Margolis, MD, said, according to HealthDay. "This doesn't tell you that we have a cure for AIDS that everyone can take tomorrow. It begins us on a road to accomplish that goal."

Merck’s stock has been up since the news broke because on the heels of the research was the company’s earnings report, which beat forecasts. Although second quarter profits were down by 11.4%, the company reaffirmed its outlook for the year with earnings per share coming in between $2.04 to $2.30. But can the good feeling last?

The results of the research with the skin cancer drug Zolinza were published after the markets closed on Wednesday. At opening bell, Merck’s stock opened 1.76% higher and since then the price has climbed by 4.8% with the added good news of Merck’s second quarter report.

Over the last day, Merck hit a new 52-week high when it briefly reached $45.13. The previous high was $44.37.

However, the good news might not last long for Merck. The patent for Singulair, the company's best-selling product, is going to expire next week. Sales for the asthma product were $1.4 billion in the second quarter. The next biggest seller was Januvia with $1.058 billion, but after that the numbers drop significantly to $632 million for Zetia.

In the earnings c
all, Adam Schechter, executive vice president and president of Global Human Health, addressed the patent expiration.

"When Singulair loses exclusivity in the United States next week, we expect multiple generic entrants on day 1. This means that erosion will be rapid, and it will be significant,"
he said in the call.

The information contained in this article should not be construed as investment advice or as a solicitation to buy or sell any stock.
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