MSD’s Ken Frazier talks on China opportunity at JPMorgan

Merck Sharp & Dohme Inc., (NYSE.MRK) CEO Ken Frazier discussed the China market opportunity during a “fireside chat” at the 38th JP Morgan Healthcare Conference held in San Francisco this week. Frazier noted that “we have a long runway ahead of us in China” after pivoting towards innovative products in the market, with growth particularly driven by the programmed death-1 (PD-1) inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab), and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil 9 (9-valent, recombinant).

Questioned on the prospects for Keytruda and Gardasil outside of the National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL), Frazier underlined that “the self-pay market is a very substantial one” in China. Gardasil 9 “continues to be something that people stand in line for”, while the commercial insurance market is now emerging. Frazier noted that although getting an NRDL listing for Keytruda remains a longer-term goal, “I don't think it's necessary for us right now to drive the kind of growth we want”. Frazier also said that the decision was taken not to drop the price of Keytruda in return for NRDL volumes “as we think about pricing globally”.

MSD reported global sales up 16% in constant currency terms in Q3’19 to USD 12.4 billion, while China market sales grew at +90% to USD 898 million, as GBI reported. Keytruda’s global sales during the quarter jumped 64% year-on-year (YOY) to USD 3.07 billion, with China reportedly among the drivers but data not broken out.

In the United States, Keytruda is now approved for 23 indications across 15 tumor types, while 4 indication approvals have been secured in China, 3 of which are in lung cancer. Frazier described Keytruda as being still in the “early to middle” stages of its lifecycle in terms of worldwide sales, and voiced his excitement at recent data for the drug in first-line renal cell carcinoma, in head and neck cancer, and as an adjuvant treatment for melanoma: “They are wonderful opportunities to grow the drug this year”.


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