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Merrill Downgrades Wyeth

The National Institutes of Health announced that it is discontinuing the combination hormone replacement therapy arm of its Women's Health Initiative study. The news prompted Merrill Lynch to downgrade its investment recommendation on shares of Wyeth (WYE) to neutral from buy.

Analyst Steven Tighe says Wyeth confirmed that the July 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association will publish information confirming the breast cancer risk of its Prempro product. In 2001, Prempro accounted for 43% of total Premarin sales or about $890 million in revenues out of a total sales base of $13.9 billion. Tighe notes that prescription volume trends for the Premarin family are negative; Wyeth was able to grow these sales via price increases. He is concerned that the company's ability to continue to grow sales may be reduced if further volume declines are incurred. Tighe says he will have to cut his estimates on Wyeth.

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