May 30, 2024

Pharma giants Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb are both getting ready for some of their key drug patents to expire in the next few years. Both companies reported quarterly earning Thursday, providing insights into how the drug manufacturers are preparing for likely hits to their revenues.


Sales of Merck’s blockbuster cancer drug Keytruda soared 20% in the first quarter of the year to $6.9 billion, compared with $5.8 billion in the same period last year. It outperformed Wall Street analysts’ expectations of $6.7 billion, based on a consensus estimate from analysts surveyed by FactSet.

The U.S. Food and Drug first approved Keytruda in 2014 to treat melanoma. Since then, it has received approval to treat several types of cancers including lung cancer and carcinoma. In the first quarter of 2024, Keytruda accounted for nearly 44% of Merck’s $15.8 billion in total sales.

The pharma company is now preparing for its patent on the drug to expire in 2028, which will allow other companies to produce biosimilars that will likely bite into Keytruda sales.

In its quarterly earnings report Thursday, Merck highlighted how it is expanding its pipeline and portfolio of drugs through acquisitions of Harpoon Therapeutics and Elanco’s Aqua Business, as well as the launch of a new drug, Winrevair.

The FDA approved Winrevair in March for adults who have high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. About 1% of the global population has this condition.

“We drove strong growth across key therapeutic areas, executed strategic business development, and in the U.S., we are now launching Winrevair, a significant new product in the cardiometabolic space for adults with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a progressive and debilitating disease,” said Merck CEO Robert M. Davis in a statement. “We have important opportunities ahead of us across all areas of our business, and we are highly focused on realizing them.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers is set to lose patents for three medications this decade: Eliquis, Revlimid, and Opdvio. Collectively, these drugs accounted for 62% of the company’s total first quarter 2024 sales of $11.9 billion.

The company announced Thursday that it was implementing a “strategic productivity initiative” that will result in $1.5 billion in cost savings. In a call with investors, the company also announced it was laying off about 2,200 employees.

“We are taking important actions to effectively manage the decade,” said Bristol-Myers CEO Christopher S. Boerner in the call. “Our management team is focused on ensuring the disciplined execution required to deliver both this year and set us up for the longer term.”

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