Merck And Schering Reeling From Vytorin Study


ImpactRx--which follows prescription writing for the industry, investors and analysts--is out with a press release this afternoon assessing the damage to Merck and Schering-Plough's cholesterol franchise of Vytorin and Zetia.

The drugs have come under attack in the past two weeks over the extent of their efficacy. And then today "The New York Times" ran an article about the financial ties the influential medical organizations that have come to the pills' defense have with the drugmakers. And separately, lawsuits are now being filed against the companies.

ImpactRx says the so-called ENHANCE study has already caused a "sharp drop" in Vytorin and Zetia prescriptions. In the past week, the company says primary care physicians have gone from putting 15 percent of their cholesterol-drug first-timers onto Vytorin (a combo of Zetia and Zocor) to five percent. Interestingly, among cardiologists the drop isn't as big: 15 percent to eight percent.

But, ImpactRx--and this stat shows you just how closely prescriptions are monitored--says as of yesterday the decline "may have begun to stabilize." John Kain, VP of Marketing at Impact Rx, is quoted in the press release as saying, "The reaction among physicians and patients is a bit puzzling, but the (prescription) data certainly indicate a change in attitude towards these drugs has occured."

Analysts are already speculating that patients are being given generic Zocor, Pfizer's Lipitor or AstraZeneca's Crestor instead of Vytorin or Zetia.

I'm guessing Merck officials will vigorously and vociferously defend the franchise in the press release and on the conference call when the Dow component reports earnings next Wednesday. In the meantime, investors continue to punish the stock. But, guess what? SGP, which has lost about a quarter of its value in the past ten days or so, is rallying today.

Questions? Comments?