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Rebif hit again as competition bites

Merck Serono’s MS drug continues its struggle for sales in the US and Europe
Merck KGaA HQ Darmstadt

Sales of Merck Serono's flagship multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) were once again dragged down by fierce competition in the second quarter of 2014.

The brand's performance – sales down 7 per cent to €464m (Q2 2013: €499m) – continues a sorry story as the injectable struggles to make headway against new oral rivals such as Biogen Idec's Tecfidera (dimethyl glutamate) and Novartis' Gilenya (fingolimod).

Rebif's figures include negative exchange rate effects, and Merck insists that organic growth in emerging markets will offset the declines in sales, but it remains a worry for parent company Merck KGaA.

An expected decline in Merck Serono's royalty, license and commission income will also put a €100m dent in the division's figures compared with last year; in Q2 alone it fell by 30.8 per cent to €64m, compared with €93m in Q2 2013.

While the pharma division's sales dipped 1.4 per cent to €1.4bn (Q2 2013: €1.5bn), it was not all gloom; cancer treatment Erbitux (cetuximab) boosted its sales by 6.5 per cent year on year to €229m (Q2 2013: €215m).

In the immediate future, the division is going to focus on emerging markets, where the company says “organic” sales grew by 16.7 per cent in Q2.

Overall for Merck KGaA, sales were up 1.9 per cent to €2.8bn in the three months to June (Q2 2013: €2.7bn) with net income falling from €316m in the same period the previous year to €303m.

“We had a solid second quarter,” said chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley. “This was primarily due to our healthy operating business. Especially in emerging markets, all our divisions performed well. Merck's stronger focus on this attractive region is visibly paying off.”

The segment accounted for 37 per cent of group sales in the second quarter (Q2 2013: 35 per cent), more than Europe (36 per cent) despite stronger foreign exchange effects.

Elsewhere in the group, the consumer health division increased sales in the same period by 3.3 per cent to €185m (Q2 2013: €179m), with OTC brands Neurobion, Floratil and Femibion driving growth.

Article by
Adam Hill

15th August 2014

From: Sales

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