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Merck OK with forecast
December 12, 2000: 1:32 p.m. ET

Pharmaceutical company plans to boost R&D spending by 16 percent next year
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Merck & Co. Inc., the second-biggest U.S. drug maker, said Tuesday it is comfortable with Wall Street's fourth-quarter and 2001 earnings estimates, and said it plans to boost research and development spending by more than 16 percent next year.

Merck said it is comfortable with analysts' estimates of 73 cents-to-76 cents per share for the fourth quarter. The consensus estimate is 75 cents, up from 66 cents in the 1999 period, according to earnings tracker First Call Corp.

For 2001, the company said it is on track to post earnings within the range of $3.15-to-$3.25 per share. The consensus figure is $3.20.

The company made the announcements at its annual analysts' conference at its Whitehouse Station, N.J., headquarters.

graphicMerck (MRK: Research, Estimates) also said it will boost research and development spending from $2.4 billion in 2000 to roughly $2.8 billion in 2001. The company also said it will add 1,800 sales and marketing representatives over the next 18 months.

HIV vaccine under development

Merck told analysts that its experimental HIV vaccine, which is still in early studies, will prove effective.

"My feeling and fond hope is that I, or my successor, will some day be in front of you, telling you the efficacy of this HIV program," said research chief Edward Scolnick.

Scolnick also said Merck's joint venture with Schering-Plough Corp. (SGP: Research, Estimates) to co-develop Schering's cholesterol-absorption blocker Ezetimibe has shown good results so far. The two companies also are working on a combination treatment that contains Ezetimibe and a cholesterol-lowering "statin" drug, such as Merck's Zocor.

Scolnick said a study showed that combining Ezetimibe with any dose of Zocor reduced so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol another 18 percent beyond Zocor's normal cholesterol-cutting ability. He predicted the combination product could become the most effective cholesterol-fighting product on the market if approved.

In afternoon trading, Merck shares gained 88 cents to $91.50. The stock is a member of the Dow Jones industrial average. Merck follows Pfizer Inc. (PFE: Research, Estimates) in rankings of the largest U.S. drug firms. graphic

-- from staff and wire reports


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