Merck Gains on Plans to Continue With Cholesterol Study

Merck & Co. jumped the most since July after saying it will continue a closely-watched study of its cholesterol lowering drug Vytorin, easing investor concern that the drug may pose a risk to patients.

Merck rose 3.2 percent to $45.04 at 4 p.m. New York time for its biggest gain since July 27. The research, called IMPROVE-IT, is projected to continue until September 2014, the Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based company said in a statement today.

Vytorin, with $1.7 billion in sales last year, combines the generic cholesterol drug simvastatin with Merck’s cholesterol drug Zetia, which generated $2.6 billion in revenue. Investors have been awaiting results of the study after researchers found in 2008 that Vytorin may not provide heart benefits over simvastatin, which is sold for a fraction of the price. That finding slashed sales of Vytorin and Zetia as doctors started prescribing lower-cost generic cholesterol medicines instead.

The announcement “suggests no safety issues,” said Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group in New York, in a note to clients. “If Zetia, Vytorin were unsafe, would you be comfortable waiting another 18 months to look at the data?”

Merck hasn’t seen trial results and no more reviews are planned, the drugmaker said. Under the current time frame, results won’t be available until about two years before Zetia’s patent expires, limiting the amount of sales Merck stands to lose if the final outcome is negative, Schoenebaum said.

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