Merck Higher on Lung Cancer Data

Shares of Merck & Co. (MRK) rose early on Monday, June 4, on the heels of data presented by the drugmaker at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago.

Shares in late morning were trading at $61.36, up 1.3%. The stock is up 9.1% in 2018 and down 6.3% over the past 12 months.

"The Keynote-407 data was a clear positive and even better than we had expected in the squamous lung cancer population," Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC analyst Vamil Divan wrote in a note on Sunday.

Keynote-407 is a Phase 3 study of Keytruda in tandem with carboplatin-paclitaxel or nab-paclitaxel as a first-line treatment for a type of lung cancer. Kenilworth, N.J.-based Merck said Sunday that the combination treatment showed improved overall survival regardless of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression. PD-L1 is a form of protein that appears to affect the immune system.

Merck also presented, among others, data from Keynote-042, its Phase 3 clinical trial of Keytruda as a monotherapy for the first-line treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors expressed PD-L1. The study showed Keytruda resulted in longer overall survival compared with platinum-based chemotherapy.

"Keynote-042 was maybe not quite the knockout punch that it could have been, but MRK is in a very dominant position in lung cancer, with expansion into other indications ongoing," Divan wrote.

ASCO's annual meeting kicked off Friday and will wrap up Tuesday.

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