Merck CEO Robert Davis On Molnupiravir

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Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) President & CEO Robert Davis on CNBC’s “TechCheck” (M-F, 11AM-12PM ET) airing today, Monday, January 10th.

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Interview With Merck CEO Robert Davis

MEG TIRRELL: Now joining us is the Merck CEO Rob Davis. Rob, thanks for being with us around this virtual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. I want to start off by asking you about Molnupiravir, your, your COVID-19 antiviral drug given where we are with the Omicron variant. What kind of demand are you seeing for the drug and any early usage that you're seeing?

ROBERT DAVIS: Yeah, well, first of all, thank you very much for having me, Meg. I appreciate the opportunity to come back on the show. You know with Molnupiravir as you say given what we're seeing with Omicron variant. We are shipping product. We actually delivered to the US at the end of December about 900,000 courses and we're gonna deliver about another 3 million courses as we get into the end of January. So, we are seeing the demand there. We're delivering on it. And, and you know, we feel very good that we've added another weapon in the arsenal against COVID-19. This is something that we feel proud about as a company and I'm proud about what my team has been able to deliver.

TIRRELL: How do you look at it, we haven't gotten to toxins, you know, the, the final data came out but we saw that change in the interim look where you had 50% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death, down to 30% with the interim look, and then the FDA clearance really was for this drug to be used when folks can't access other drugs or they're not appropriate for them because of, you know, various reasons with the other medicines. How do you look at that change in the data and how we should be thinking about how well this drug works and how important a tool it is?

DAVIS: Yeah, well, you know, it's important to I think focus on what the drug does and, you know, obviously, there's a lot of things that happen when you're looking at an interim read versus a final read. But I think an important factor that we always have to come back to if you look at reduction in death, which is a very hard endpoint, so reduction in risk of death, Molnupiravir delivers about a 90% reduction so it is meaningful and if you're someone in a high-risk category who can't use the other drugs that are available to you, this antiviral treatment is a great option and I think as you look at what this drug is, there are a lot of people who will benefit from this not only in the United States, but globally. And and as I see this, this is about what all of us can bring together. This isn't about one versus the other. So, I feel good about it. And you know, as we think about what is the potential, we had indicated last year that we expected to see about five to $7 billion in revenue in 2022 and I can tell you based on the orders we have in hand, we are, we are going to deliver in that expectation. So the demand continues to be meaningful on a global basis. And I'm just feel privileged that we're able to hopefully do a small part to help in in this fight.

TIRRELL: Is there any expectation that you could combine this drug or look at testing it along with other antivirals, either Pfizer's PAXLOVID or other antiviral drugs. We understand it's very strongly active and perhaps isn't as susceptible to variants but of course, that's always the worry with single antiviral drugs. Are you looking at combining it all, at all?

DAVIS: Well, a couple important things. If you look at our drug has a high barrier of resistance and, and also in preclinical testing, we've, we've actually been able to look and see that we do not believe there's any issue with the Omicron variant so it does work against Omicron variant and by the nature of the mechanism that this this drug operates in, that's what you would expect. And in fact, you know, as we think about down the road, and, you know, we hope it's not the case, but we also have to be I think sober to realize there is a possibility we're going to see future coronaviruses, future viruses and pandemics and the nature of this molecule is such that it is, should be effective regardless of the type of coronavirus it is and in fact even shows that some activity across broader RNA based respiratory viruses like RSV, like frankly the common flu and cold so, you know, that gives us confidence that this drug has a strong platform to work. We are open to continuing to consider combinations. We don't have active studies underway in that area ourselves right now. But I wouldn't be surprised over time if you do see people start to look at combinations of the various drugs.

TIRRELL: Well, in other antiviral work, of course, you have HIV drugs as well and one has had a safety setback with Islatravir getting put on clinical hold. What's your expectation for how that gets worked through and what the future of that drug might be?

DAVIS: Yeah, well you know, I think this just shows that science is tough. And, you know, this drug was a drug that have has so many great characteristics. It's highly potent. It also is highly resistant, plays well with others, very durable drug. So, it had so many attributes that we felt would make it a great drug to add to the arsenal in the fight against HIV. It's based on a new mechanism, the NRTTI mechanism and so that class, that approach we continue to think there's value in it so we're doing the work to understand what potentially did cause the drop in lymphocytes we saw and is it something we can address as we think about dosing, as we think about other things. And so that work is, is underway and you know, I'm hopeful that we will see that continue to, to bear fruit because there's still a big unmet need in HIV, but we have to do the work and so more to come whether or not we'll be able to bring that drug back. But the work is, is happening as we speak.

TIRRELL: Absolutely. Well, Rob Davis, that's all the time we have. We had a whole Merck interview and we didn't talk about Keytruda once so you're gonna have to come back because we’ve got a lot more to talk about but thanks so much for being with us here this morning.

DAVIS: Well thank you. Thank you for having us and it's, it's a privilege. Thanks.