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Merck Stock In Limbo; FDA Mulls Covid Pill As Omicron Variant Looms

Merck stock dipped midday Tuesday as Food and Drug Administration advisors discussed the company’s Covid pill for possible emergency authorization.




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The Ridgeback Biotherapeutics-partnered antiviral, called molnupiravir, lowered the chances of hospitalization or death due to mild-to-moderate Covid by 30% in a recent study. Merck (MRK) conducted the test in unvaccinated patients at risk of severe disease.

But that risk reduction declined by 48% in an interim analysis, and Merck stock tumbled.

Now, the FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee is discussing whether the benefits of the pill outweigh its risks in Covid treatment. Merck is also testing the antiviral med in people who have received a Covid vaccine and people exposed to the virus, but not sick.

In midday trading on the stock market today, Merck stock dipped 0.3% near 74.70.

Merck Stock: Antiviral Under Consideration

Investors are watching the ongoing battle between Merck and Pfizer (PFE). Pfizer is also seeking the FDA’s blessing for a two-pill regimen called Paxlovid. It contains an antiviral and a medicine to slow down how fast the body metabolizes the antiviral.

In Pfizer’s test, Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in a similar group of unvaccinated, at-risk patients. Paxlovid recipients began treatment within three days of their symptoms beginning. Molnupiravir patients began treatment within five days of symptom onset. Still, the Pfizer study sent Merck stock toppling.

On Tuesday, FDA advisors will discuss the potential use of molnupiravir in pregnant patients, as well as the impact Covid mutations might have on the pill’s effectiveness. In an email, a Merck spokeswoman said the company is planning to test molnupiravir against a new variant called omicron.

Ultimately, the committee will vote on whether the benefits of molnupiravir outweigh the risks in mild-to-moderate Covid patients within five days of symptoms onset. The question doesn’t note patients must be unvaccinated. But patients must be adults. The vote isn’t binding, but Merck stock could pop — or fall — on it.

Follow Allison Gatlin on Twitter at @IBD_AGatlin.

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