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Merck Presents Positive Trial Results For Cancer Drug

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Merck ( MRK ) seeks to add potential new blockbuster drugs to its disease-fighting arsenal as it takes on cancer and hepatitis C.

On Monday, the drugmaker presented results from a phase-one trial of its pembrolizumab cancer treatment at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago. The study showed 69% of patients with advanced melanoma that had spread elsewhere in the body survived following a year of treatment. After 18 months, 62% were still alive.

In January, Merck filed with the FDA for approval to use pembrolizumab to treat melanoma. The drug is expected to eventually be approved to treat lung cancer as well.

At the International Liver Congress in April,the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company released positive results for a hepatitis C drug cocktail. The company reported a 98% cure rate in hepatitis C genotype 1 patients who took Merck's MK-5172 and MK-8742 drug candidates during phase-two trials.

The drug combo, taken once a day and combined in a single pill, could rivalGilead Sciences ' ( GILD ) sofosbuvir/ledipasvir cocktail drug, which is awaiting FDA approval.AbbVie ( ABBV ) andEnanta Pharmaceuticals ( ENTA ) also have a combo hepatitis C drug that's expected to launch later this year.

Merck's annual earnings dipped 9% last year to $3.49 a share. Analysts expect a 1% pullback this year, before growth resumes at 5% next year. Sales fell the past two years, as is typical in Big Pharma when branded drugs lose patent protection and generics flood the market.

In April, the drugmaker paid out a quarterly dividend of 44 cents a share, or $1.76 on an annualized basis. That works out to a 3% yield, above the S&P 500's 1.88%. The payout has increased for the third straight year, after holding at 38 cents a share from 2005 to 2011.

Merck's stock is trading at its highest levels in more than six years and is up 14% from a 50.52 flat-base buy point cleared in January.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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