- Merck & Co. raised its U.S. list prices on five drugs in November, including its top-selling cancer immunotherapy, Keytruda, and its top-selling vaccine, Gardasil, a company spokesperson confirmed Thursday to BioPharma Dive.
- In July, the New Jersey pharma announced a commitment to keep U.S. net price increases at or below the level of inflation annually. These list price raises, a Merck spokesperson said, are "fully consistent" with that pledge.
- List prices on Keytruda and Gardasil were respectively boosted by about 1.5% and 6% in November, Reuters reported, which was first to report the price increases. The other three affected drugs were vaccines, the spokesperson said, without saying which ones.
Merck's move is another example of how price increases are a critical part of pharma's business models, and how neither policy action or rhetoric from Washington has been enough to force a fundamental re-evaluation of their role.
A couple weeks ago, Pfizer said it plans to raise prices on 41 drugs beginning Jan. 15, 2019. Company CEO Ian Read said on Pfizer's third quarter earnings call he expects a return to "business as normal" on price decisions.
Four months ago, Pfizer had agreed to roll back price increases it took in July in response to criticism from President Donald Trump. Around that same time, a half dozen or so drugmakers voiced some level of commitment to either pause or delay price increases in 2018.
Merck made its move on July 19, pairing a commitment to hold net prices on its U.S. product portfolio at or below inflation levels with price cuts to a handful of drugs.
However, the products with now lower prices are of marginal importance to Merck's bottom line. These new increases, by contrast, are to two of the drugmaker's best-selling products.
Zepatier (elbasvir and grazoprevir) was the only drug of the seven reduced in July that was individually listed in recent company financial filings. Zepatier, which Merck cut the price of by 60% at the time, posted $8 million in U.S. sales through the first nine months of 2018.
In contrast, Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Gardasil (HPV 9-valent vaccine, recombinant) combined to net $4.3 billion in U.S. sales through the first nine months, slightly more than one-third of Merck's entire U.S. pharmaceutical sales in that time period.
A company spokesperson said these list price hikes do not contradict Merck's July actions, noting the pharma saw average net price decline by 1.9% in the U.S. in 2017 for its product portfolio.
"We will continue to evaluate our portfolio of products to look for opportunities to further reduce costs for patients and the health care system," the spokesperson wrote Thursday in an email to BioPharma Dive. "Merck remains committed to responsibly pricing our medicines, as our company always has been."