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Schering Plows Through Vytorin Firestorm

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Schering-Plough beat the Street by a surprising 16 cents per share and the beaten-down shares are rallying.

In an exclusive CNBC interview (see video, below) from the drugmaker's HQ in Kenilworth, N.J. Wednesday morning, Chairman and Chief Executive Fred Hassan said the company was able to blow away estimates via the recent acquisition of Organon, which is already beginning to add to earnings; as well as a big boost from international sales, leveraging the foreign currency exchange rate...er, weak dollar. (Analysts say that, of all the big pharmas, SGP has the biggest percentage of revenue coming from outside the U.S.)

But Schering isn't out of the woods yet on the Vytorin-Zetia situation.

On the conference call, an executive said its market share among cholesterol-lowering drugs fell 3 percent in March from December levels (before the preliminary data questioning their efficacy were released) -- and that it continues to fall, in the wake of the detailed and damning results and interpretation presented at the cardiologists' convention at the end of last month.

Hassan and his team vigorously defended the franchise, but they also shot the messenger: They blamed the news media for causing what they repeatedly called "an unwarranted uproar, unwarranted confusion and unwarranted concerns" that have been "undermining patient care and the war on heart disease."

Earlier this week the V-Z joint venture partner Merck estimated that its equity income from the drugs would go down about $700 million this year. But in a subsequent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, SGP said MRK can say what it wants to say and that it's not gonna play that game. Unlike most of its competitors, Schering doesn't give specific product sales guidance or overall earnings forecasts, so analysts are kind of left to their own devices.

Hassan also tried to tout the company's long-term drug development pipeline, which he called "a tremendous asset."

SGP has what officials referred to as a "paradigm changing" treatment for the muscle-relaxing side effects of anesthesia in late-stage tests; a combo pill of Schering's Claritin and Merck's asthma/allergy drug Singulair under Food and Drug Administration review; and a Hepatitis C drug that will have new data presented at a scientific conference in Milan this weekend. (You hear the term "paradigm changing" a lot in pharma and biotech.)

SGP is in a race with Vertex Pharmaceuticals to get a new Hep C treatment to market. Vertex will also have new test results out at that European meeting.

But I have to wonder -- and if you watch the Hassan interview you can hear his answer to this -- if another company also sees SGP's pipeline as a "tremendous asset."

I have no reporting on this and I don't want to add to any rumors or speculation, but in the current environment I wouldn't be surprised to see another company make a play for Schering. In particular, a foreign drug giant could not only capitalize on SGP's relatively cheap stock price, but also the foreign currency exchange rate. I know it's small potatoes, but witness GlaxoSmithKline's deal with Sirtris.

Speaking of "cheap" drug stocks, I'm off to Memphis for the Pfizer shareholder meeting tomorrow. PFE is up today, but as I write this, still below 20 bucks.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com