- Merck expects cardiovascular drugs will once again be a big part of its business in the future, forecasting that, by the middle of next decade, peak sales from medicines treating the heart and blood vessels will exceed $10 billion.
- At an investor event Tuesday, Merck executives highlighted a late-stage drug pipeline they say has tripled in size over the past year and includes the recently approved heart failure drug Verquvo as well as experimental medicines for pulmonary arterial hypertension, or PAH, and blood clots.
- From that pipeline, Merck expects to win regulatory approval for eight new drugs and indications by 2030, which could help cushion the loss of patent protection on the company's current top sellers Keytruda and Gardasil. Those patent expirations are expected to occur in the U.S. in 2028.
Heart drugs like the cholesterol-lowering treatments Zocor and Zetia fueled Merck's pharmaceutical sales in the 2000s and 2010s, but their patents have long since expired. Last year, sales of the company's cardiovascular medicines totaled about $600 million, approximately one-thirtieth what Merck's dominant cancer immunotherapy Keytruda earned.
Merck isn't alone in fielding a diminished portfolio of heart drugs, which used to account for many of the pharmaceutical industry's blockbuster medicines. In recent years, by comparison, drugmaker laboratories have largely focused instead on cancer and immune disease treatments, although there are some signs of renewed interest in cardiovascular research. Novartis and Bristol Myers Squibb, for example, each have made pricey acquisitions, while Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca are investing heavily in proving their diabetes medicines can treat heart failure.
Over the past year, Merck has also begun to step up its cardiovascular research spending, most notably with an $11.5 billion buyout of the biotech Acceleron and its portfolio of PAH drugs.
Acceleron's experimental medicine sotatercept now leads Merck's cardiovascular pipeline, alongside the newly approved Verquvo, which Merck developed with Bayer. Earlier in testing and highlighted Tuesday are an inhaled PAH medicine, an anticoagulant and an oral cholesterol-lowering medicine that's aimed at PCSK9, the target of injectable treatments from Amgen, Novartis, and partners Sanofi and Regeneron.
Merck also noted its investments in cardiovascular drug discovery, which are aided by a recently built facility near San Francisco that houses more than 300 employees.