Merck’s New Cancer Drug Boosts Its Rating


Merck & Co., Inc.’s (NYSE:MRK) shares are at a 52-week high on Monday after a recent upgrade to the company’s shares, even as the majority of the market is sluggish at the start of the new year, according to a MarketWatch report. The company’s shares were up 3 percent to $53.57 in its most recent action.

David Risinger, an analyst with Morgan Stanley who spoke with MarketWatch, raised his rating on Merck to overweight from underweight on Monday, noting that the company’s prospects for a new cancer drug have improved and could potentially bring in more than $6 billion in annual sales before 2020.

Risinger noted several developments which influenced the rating boost. Merck is filing for approval for its new cancer drug, currently known as MK-3475, a year earlier than anticipated. The drug is geared toward boosting the immune system to fight cancer. Risinger also pointed out that Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s (NYSE:BMY) rival drugs, a combination of drugs known as Yervoy and PD-1 doubts that it will dominate the market for treatments of lung cancer.

“Management is taking the right steps — cost cuts [research and development], changes and considering strategic action — to boost [the] company’s outlook,” Risinger added, speaking with the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch.

An analyst for ISI Group, Michael Schoenebaum is less rosy on Merck, however. He says he isn’t so sure that $6 billion in sales is likely. Instead, he sees $2 million as being “baked into” Merck’s valuation from MK-3475. But, he contends, Bristol-Myers recent admission that it may not dominate the market will give Merck more opportunities to succeed with its new drug.

“As a monotherapy,” he says, “we believe [Bristol-Myers] is likely still ahead of [Merck] in lung cancer. But if the combo of Yervoy+PD-1 is not the ‘killer app’ in lung, this should give [Merck] the ability to compete more effectively,” Schoenebaum wrote in a message to his clients, per MarketWatch.