By TOM MURPHY
Merck soared past first-quarter expectations, helped by sales of its long-standing blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda and a new COVID-19 treatment that also topped forecasts.
The drugmaker raised its 2022 forecast Thursday after its coronavirus capsule treatment Lagevrio brought in almost $3.2 billion in sales in the quarter.
Analysts were expecting $2.54 billion from the drug, which debuted late last year under the name molnupiravir.
Not counting Lagevrio, Merck said its pharmaceutical revenue still grew 18% in the first quarter. Sales of Keytruda climbed 23% to $4.81 billion.
Analysts were expecting $4.47 billion, according to a survey by FactSet.
Revenue from the company’s Gardasil vaccines, which protect against cancer-causing human papilloma virus infections, jumped 59% to $1.5 billion, helped by growth in China.
Overall, Merck’s profit climbed 36% to $4.31 billion.
Adjusted earnings, which exclude one-time items, totaled $2.14 per share, while total sales jumped 50% to $15.9 billion.
Analysts expected, on average , earnings of $1.83 per share on about $14.55 billion in revenue in the quarter.
The company also said Thursday it was raising and narrowing its forecast for the year. Merck now expects adjusted earnings to range between $7.24 and $7.36 per share after forecasting $7.12 to $7.27 per share in February.
Analysts expect earnings of $7.28 per share, according to FactSet.
Lagevrio, made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is one of two pill treatments for COVID-19 that are aimed at treating patients most at risk of winding up in a hospital from the virus.
U.S. regulators approved Lagevrio and Pfizer’s Paxlovid in December, and Merck produced 10 million courses of its treatment by the end of 2021. It plans to add an additional 20 million in 2022.
The drugmaker said in February that it had produced about 3.1 million courses for the U.S. government. The U.S. agreed to pay roughly $700 per course for those treatments.
The COVID-19 treatment is free to patients in the U.S.
Merck’s drug inserts tiny errors into the coronavirus’ genetic code to slow its reproduction.
In clinical trials, Lagevrio reduced hospitalization and death by 30% among adults infected with the coronavirus, when compared with adults taking a placebo or fake drug.
Shares of Merck & Co. Inc., based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, climbed before the opening bell Thursday.
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