Merck & Co Earnings Call NUGGETS: Business Portfolio Approach, REMICADE

On Friday, Merck & Co Inc (NYSE:MRK) reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Business Portfolio Approach

Catherine Arnold – Credit Suisse: I had two questions. One, I wondered if you could just comment on ZOSTAVAX, I mean very impressive performance and I know last quarter you had said that it’s going to take another three or six months to better understand the demand here and you’ve been doing DTC. The second quarter tell us sort of more about what we should be thinking on annualized rates and how we should start seeing maybe more normalized sequential quarterly progression? Or is it going to remain choppy? Then more a big picture question. Ken, I guess I’m just wondering if the Board or executive team has evolved or changed over the last few quarters in a way it’s thinking about evaluating or considering what’s core for Merck strategically and what might be candidates for divestment or spend? If the answer is, yes, if you could just give us a little bit of color there?

A Closer Look: Merck Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

Kenneth C. Frazier – Chairman, President and CEO: So thanks for the questions Catherine. I think our approach to our overall business portfolio remains essentially the same, which is we mean to evaluate as we go forward what the opportunities are across Animal Health and Consumer Health in conjunction with Global Human Health. Right now, we’re pleased to have them in the portfolio. We think they’re performing well. We will continue to evaluate how we can ensure that those portions of the portfolio actually help us contribute to our plans to have long-term shareholder value. So that was what I would say – we’ll continue to look at that, but we’re pleased to have those in our portfolio right now. The other thing is that we continue as we look at our portfolio to look for ways to augment our businesses through the kind of business development that will create long-term shareholder value. So that wasn’t directly your question, but I want to make sure that that’s also clear. On the ZOSTAVAX thing, I have to say we’re very pleased that we could now say we’re in a stable supply situation now in the United States and we’re continuing to work hard to make the kinds of manufacturing improvements and enhancements that are necessary to meet worldwide demand. So with that I’ll turn it over to Adam.

Adam H. Schechter – EVP and President, Global Human Health: Hi, Catherine. So the $148 million for the second quarter, that was the highest quarter since 2008, but I think it’s important that we believe it’s reflective of current market demand. At the same time we’re increasing our promotional efforts and we’ve just started our branded DTC campaign last month. So we’re looking to see if we can continue to accelerate. Also in the fourth quarter, there may be some seasonality as the flu season heads and some patients are going into get the flu vaccine, they might also get the PNEUMOVAX vaccine. The question is will they get a third one, which will be ZOSTAVAX. So we’re going to be working very hard in the fourth quarter, but watching it very closely to see if demand can continue to increase.

Catherine Arnold – Credit Suisse: Adam, just as a follow-up, are you basically saying that this quarter shows real demand, but there’s opportunities to stimulate more demand if possible?

Adam H. Schechter – EVP and President, Global Human Health: So I believe that this is real demand and we’re going to continue to see if we can accelerate growth moving forward.

REMICADE

Tim Anderson – Sanford Bernstein: On Odanacatib press release about early stoppage of the trial, suggested there was a safety issue. Can you give us any color, even at a high level on what this is and also saying when full results will be released? On REMICADE, which will be your third biggest drug once SINGULAIR goes off, we recently saw the first biosimilar approval in South Korea. Can you give us your general thoughts on biosimilars against the product? The VICTRELIS new patient start declines, is that because of warehousing at all or is that just a natural treatment evolution?

Kenneth C. Frazier – Chairman, President and CEO: We don’t have any updates beyond what we said in our press release. We are waiting, as you are for the trial to close out following the first plan interim efficacy analysis. We anticipate that will take several months and at the date of when the trial presented in 2013.

Adam H. Schechter – EVP and President, Global Human Health: Let my try first to answer your question regarding REMICADE and it feels that REMICADE is currently patent protected in a majority of EU countries until late 2014. We filed for an extended patent license in EU based upon the pediatric indications, so we’re hoping that would bring exclusivity to 2015. We’re still doing a lot of work, but we would expect potentially minimal impact of first two years after biosimilar entry because it will be the first monoclonal antibody biosimilar in the EU. The product will be limited to new patients and we don’t think they will necessarily be switching for patients that are controlled. Many of the mechanisms for approval on reimbursement and physician familiarity will take time to build up. If you look at VICTRELIS, as I said, we’ve seen a slowing of new patient starts. We think there’s a couple reasons for that. The first one is there is a lot of clinical trials that are ongoing and they are enrolling new patients. The second reason is some of the highest prescribing physicians were out capacity of how many patients they can bring into the office. They are not expanding their staff. With the economic environment that they are facing, they are not increasing staff to try to bring in more patients. In addition to that it’s the slowest summer months. We don’t have any sense at this time that there is significant warehousing that’s taking place.