The State of Statins & Stents

Heart Stent
Rick Lee
Heart Stent

Leerink Swann, which specializes in healthcare equities research, is out with a couple of noteworthy surveys--one on the collateral damage to Merck and Schering-Plough's Vytorin this week and the other on drug-coated stents from Abbott Labs , Boston Scientific , Johnson & Johnsonand Medtronic .

Leerink has a medical expert unit called "MEDACorp" that it relies on for ears-to-the-ground, real-world research. In the wake of the study that broke last Monday showing a higher incidence of cancer among patients who took Vytorin, MEDACorp canvassed 100 general practitioners and cardiologists for their reaction to the news. The survey was started Tuesday afternoon, so the news had been out for about 24 hours by that time. 83% of the docs said they hadn't yet heard from patients or, if they did, the inquiries were few and far between.

And of the patients who did call their doctor with concerns, Leerink says "the average inquiry was not alarmist". Nonetheless, the doctors said they still expect that they're gonna write fewer prescriptions for Vytorin and Zetia (Vytorin is made with Zetia and Zocor) over the next year. Leerink is forecasting a worst-case scenario decline of 20-30 percent. Earlier this week, MRKheld back on providing financial guidance for this year and beyond until it can get a better handle on the impact the cancer scare might have on V-Z sales. The companies say the higher number of cancer cases is likely an anomaly.

Then, this morning the same firm is out with an amalgam of survey results showing that the use of drug-coated stents continues to bounce back and that prices aren't going down as much as some had thought they would now that there are four players in the U.S. market. Leerink says seven out of 10 stents that are being put in are coated with a drug and that interventional cardiologists--the docs who implant the tiny wire mesh tubes--expect that rate to tick up slightly higher over the next few months.

Many analysts had been predicting a price war this year as MDT and ABT busted up the duopoly owned by BSX and JNJ. But Leerink says its research shows that prices are not collapsing. Boston Scientificis selling the new ABT Xience stent under a different brand name, Promus. It's entitled to do that based on the terms of the Guidant acquisition/divestiture.

Anyway, Leerink says Promus is "the highest-priced stent on the market which might suggest recent commentary indicating that BSX will be aggressive with price may be overstated." Some have suggested that because the newest ABT-BSX drug-coated stent looks to be better, safer and easier to thread than the competition that the companies might be able to charge a premium.

Leerink Swann may trade in the stocks of all of the above-mentioned stentmakers and drugmakers.

And a couple of other notes:

Genentech's trading at another new high and has once again crossed the $100 billion market cap threshold after issuing a fightin' words press release late yesterday.

And Elanians, I'm happy to report, that ELN CEO Kelly Martin will be joining me for a "First on CNBC" live interview from the Alzheimer's conference in Chicago. His appearance, which is his first on CNBC in about four years, will take place on "Squawk on the Street" around 9:40 a.m. ET next Wednesday, the morning after the highly anticipated detailed test results are released on the Alzheimer's drug Elan shares with Wyeth .

Questions? Comments?