Rob Black's Healthcare Stock Report

Includes: HCA, MRK, NVS, SGP
by: Rob Black
Bain Capital, Merrill Lynch and Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts will offer to buy HCA Inc (NYSE:HCA), the biggest U.S. hospital operator, for about $21 billion. Members of the Frist family, founders of Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA, are joining the three private equity firms in the bid. The price would be about 7 percent higher than the company's $19.5 billion market value on July 21.

The Wall Street Journal reports a small but significant study of the cancer-drug Gleevec shows the drug can be toxic to the heart and can lead to heart failure in some patients, raising a possible stumbling block for a treatment that is remarkably successful at treating leukemia. Gleevac is manufactured by Novartis (NYSE:NVS).

Schering-Plough (SGP) posted a profit as the drugmaker's Vytorin and Zetia cholesterol pills increased their share within the $22 billion global cholesterol market. Net income was $259 million after a loss of $48 million a year earlier. Revenue rose 11 percent to $2.8 billion as the combined sales of Vytorin and Zetia almost doubled to $958 million. Vytorin and Zetia are being prescribed to patients with especially high cholesterol, making the drugs less susceptible to new competition from less expensive generic copies of Merck's anti-cholesterol pill, Zocor. Vytorin also gained from a $161.5 million advertising campaign last year.

Merck (NYSE:MRK) said profit doubled as an increase in prescriptions for allergy and heart-disease drugs helped overcome a drop in sales of the Zocor cholesterol pill. Net income rose to $1.5 billion from $720.6 million a year earlier, when profit was reduced by costs related to taxes on overseas profit. Revenue rose 5.6 percent. As U.S. patent protection for Zocor expired June 23, Merck cut prices to compete with generic- drug makers and salvage sales of its best-selling product.

The company plans to revive revenue growth with its new Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine and drugs in development including a new type of diabetes pill called Januvia. This is not a situation where near-term earnings lead to an upside. This year Merck's portfolio shows more products hitting late-stage trials. Those are the events people look for. Merck has gained 17 percent this year Chief Executive Officer Richard Clark is eliminating jobs and closing plants to save $5 billion over the next four years. Merck has already shipped "tens of thousands of doses'' of its recently approved Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine, company spokeswoman Janet Skidmore said in a June 20 interview. The shot targets the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer.

Some analysts estimate Gardasil may generate $3 billion of annual sales. The company is also introducing vaccines against rotavirus, the most common cause of diarrhea in children, and shingles, a chickenpox-related condition, for people ages 60 and older. Januvia, the new type of diabetes drug, may reach the market in October. Januvia is designed to keep the disease in check with fewer side effects than some older medicines. Analysts predict sales for Januvia may reach $2 billion in four years.

In the 13 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, the pancreas either doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin or the body doesn't properly use it.