Merck CEO Robert Davis says ready to quickly deploy Covid antiviral pill

Merck CEO Robert Davis told CNBC Thursday that the drug company is ready to produce and distribute tens of millions of doses of Covid antiviral pills if it gets regulatory approval.

“Right now, we’re on track to deliver 10 million courses ready before the end of this year, and more than double that next year,” Merck CEO Robert Davis told Squawk Box.

An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to evaluate safety and efficacy data for the pill, known as molnopiravir, on November 30, and decide whether or not to approve it for an emergency use authorization in the United States. Those internal data indicated that the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid was halved by molnopiravir.

“I can tell you from the data we’ve seen and the studies we’ve done, we think this is a safe drug,” Davis said.

If approved, molnopiravir would be the first approved treatment for Covid in pill form, and would also help diversify the company’s appeal to investors, who are tired of Merck’s over-reliance on its cancer drug, Keytruda, for business growth. Merck also recently acquired Biopharm Acceleron to expand its cardiovascular disease pipeline.

Merck has entered into an agreement with a United Nations-backed group to help produce Covid-19 antiviral pills worldwide. The agreement will allow the production of Molnopiravir by qualified pharmaceutical companies around the world to address the health disparities highlighted by the distribution of the vaccine. Merck will not receive any royalties from sales of birth control pills as long as the World Health Organization remains classified as a public health emergency in Covid.

Globally, there have been more than 244 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 4.9 million deaths, according to WHO data.

Davis said he sees plenty of opportunities in the future for Merck. He added, “We’re excited about our pipeline, we’re excited about our ability to grow…Frankly we still think our growth to 2024 is underappreciated, so I think there’s more opportunity for this stock.”

Merck beat Wall Street expectations with quarterly results, and its stock rose nearly 2% in the first market Thursday. The company reported adjusted earnings of $1.75 per share in the third quarter on revenue of $13.1 billion. Merck raised its full-year forecast.

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