Company news: Merck, Gilead

Despite a 1% bump in second quarter worldwide sales over the same period the year before, Merck exercised caution in its July 27th earnings statement: the company noted that asthma drug Singulair goes off patent next month, somewhat dulling the halo around the soo-to-be-generic drug whose sales rose 6% over the same period last year to reach $1.4 billion for the quarter ended June 30. August is just the start of branded Singulair's expected ebb --  after going generic this summer in the US, it is also set to lose exclusivity in Europe in February. The quarter's rising performers included the diabetes drug Januvia, with sales of $1 billion for the quarter, a 36% increase over sales of $779 million for the same period last year, and of sister med Janumet, which saw sales rise 28% during the quarter, to $411 million, compared to $321 million during the second quarter of 2011. Arthritis biologic Remicade fell 38%, to $518 million, compared to $842 million for the same period last year, while Simponi, also for rheumatoid arthritis, had a 1% bump, with sales of $76 million compared to the same period the year before. Merck's vaccines business went upward during the quarter: sales of the HPV vaccine Gardasil rose to $324 million, 17% more than the $277 million in sales for the same period last year, and pneumococcal shot Pneumovax more than doubled its sales, rising 57%, to reach $101 million, compared to $64 million for the same period last year.

Gilead is preparing to attack the hepatitis C virus with an all-oral regimen. The company is set to start a Phase III drug study in the fourth quarter evaluating the combination of Gilead's nucleotide analog GS-7977 with GS-5885, an NS5A inhibitor, in genotype 1 HCV patients. Earlier this year, a study evaluating GS-7977 with Bristol-Myers Squibb's NS5A inhibitor daclatasvir showed the combo cleared the virus in more than 95% of patients across a broad spectrum of genotypes. If everything stays on track, Gilead could have results to submit for regulatory reviewers by 2014. Gilead paid $11 billion for Pharmasset, which developed GS-7977. The CDC says hepatitis C is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the US.