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Merck CEO Talks Growth

Tim Anderson of Prudential Equity Group says the last three months of 2005 represented a "good quarter overall," but he is keeping a neutral rating. The most immediate risk, aside from the Vioxx litigation, is the potential impact of new generic cholesterol drugs chewing into sales of Vytorin this year, he says. Anderson doesn't own shares, and his firm doesn't have an investment-banking relationship.

Judy Lewent, Merck's chief financial officer, says the company is talking to more than 40 companies in an effort to establish business alliances. Merck also is examining "a range of targeted acquisitions," she says.

Clark says Merck hasn't incorporated potential acquisitions into its revenue and earnings projections. Clark's ideal target would be a biotechnology company that has products on the market and whose research focuses on compounds that Merck recently outlined as its top priorities.

Anticipating analysts' questions, Lewent says Merck has the financial strength to maintain the quarterly dividend at its current level as well as to finance R&D priorities.

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