By Jeff Bailey
Safety questions about Merck's (MRK) No. 1-selling drug, Januvia, now have a human face, Dr. Peter C. Butler, a UCLA endocrinologist, who produced research that raises questions about whether the diabetes drug might cause pancreatic cancer.
A New York Times article, by Andrew Pollack, published today could raise the profile of health concerns surrounding Januvia, which had 2012 sales of $4.1 billion.
Merck, like other pharmaceutical companies, has had a hard time generating revenue growth of late as patents on existing drugs have expired and company labs have failed to develop enough new drugs.
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Pollack, in his article, reports:
"Based on his latest study, both the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have begun investigations that could lead to new warnings on the drugs, or even to their removal from the market."
"Or they could result in no action at all."
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), Astra-Zeneca (AZN), Novo-Nordisk (NVO) and Eli Lilly (LLY) sell similar drugs, though none generates as much sales as Merck's Januvia. There have been some lawsuits by patients, alleging the drugs caused them either pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis. Merck told Pollack that clinical trials hadn't found an increased risks of pancreatic cancer from Januvia.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.