Propelled by strong sales of its cancer drug Keytruda, Merck & Co.'s sales grew in the first quarter of 2017 to $9.4 billion, the company reported in an earnings call today.
Merck, the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company, had strong performances in its oncology, hepatitis C and vaccine businesses in the quarter. But those gains were mostly offset by losses in market exclusivity for some of the company's products, including cholesterol drug Zetia and allergy spray Nasonex. That meant an increase of only 1% in sales between the first quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2016.
Keytruda sales were up 134% in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the previous-year quarter. In March, the Food and Drug Administration approved Keytruda for the treatment of certain types of lymphoma, and the European Commission approved Keytruda for the first-line treatment of certain types of lung cancer. The drug is now the most prescribed first-line drug for lung cancer.
Keytruda was Merck's second best-selling pharmaceutical in the first quarter, beat only by Januvia, which had sales of $1.33 billion in the first quarter. The drug now has 70% of the subset of the diabetes-drug market it falls in.
Merck's total first-quarter pharmaceutical sales were $8.185 billion, contributing to total sales of $9.434 billion, up 1% from the first quarter of 2016. Materials and production costs decreased dramatically in the first quarter compared to the year-before quarter, falling 16%, while marketing and administrative and research and development costs were slightly up. Growth in pharmaceuticals spurred the company to raise its outlook for full-year revenue to between $39.1 billion and $40.3 billion.