While Drug Prices Steadily Rise, Big Pharma Trio Declares Huge Financial Gains

Despite the fact that the Senate is breathing down their necks over soaring drug prices, three of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies had good news to share with the announcement of first-quarter financial results.

Americans may be asking for cheaper drugs and skipping doses due to inflated costs, but both Merck and Pfizer beat Wall Street’s estimates for the quarter.

Merck, the maker of popular drugs like Keytruda and Gardasil, reported earnings of $1.22 per share, more than the $1.06 analysts expected. Revenue for the pharma giant checked in at $10.81 billion, more than the estimate of $10.48 billion.

What’s prompting Merck’s growth? For one thing, sales of Keytruda—which patients suffering from cancer take to strengthen their immune system—climbed by 55% over the first three months of 2019 to $2.27 billion.

If those sales tell us anything, it’s that more people than ever have access to the drug. Now, here’s the bad news: We know there’s still many who can’t afford it.

As we reported earlier this year, the cost of lifesaving drugs is now outpacing U.S. inflation, which means some patients are having to choose between medication to save their lives and putting food on the table.

Keytruda wasn’t the only Merck drug to see double-digit gains in the first quarter. The company’s Gardasil vaccine, also used to prevent certain types of cancer, rose 27%. Children’s vaccines, including what’s used to prevent the spread of measles, also had a 27% increase. As you may know, our country is in the throes of its worst measles outbreak since officials declared it eradicated nearly two decades ago.

Beating Wall Street estimates by 10 cents per share, Pfizer saw its revenue leap to $13.12 billion—again, higher than Wall Street experts predicted. Lyrica, which is the subject of frequently aired televised advertisements that tout its ability to treat nerve pain, had sales of $1.19 billion.

The third of the Big Pharma trio to report on its financials, Eli Lilly, had a mixed bag of results. While the company beat earnings-per-share estimates, its revenue fell just short of what analysts projected. The company also announced that it expects continued price declines in the U.S. due to increased competition from generics and does not expect to meet its full-year revenue estimate.

Now, before you openly weep for poor Eli Lilly, you should know that it’s still expecting full-year revenue of around $22 billion. Its diabetes drug, Trulicity, made more than $879 million in the quarter, an increase of 30% over last year’s number. Sales figures for Alitma, Lilly’s cancer drug, was even with the previous year’s mark at $499 million.

Meanwhile, 79% of Americans told a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) tracking poll in February that they felt the cost of prescription drugs was “unreasonable.” Of those that responded to the KFF poll, 25% of adults and seniors said they found it “difficult” to afford their prescription drugs, while 10% said it was “very difficult.”

On multiple occasions this year, executives from Pfizer, Merck, Eli Lilly, and their Big Pharma brethren have appeared before the Senate and fielded questions about their astronomical drug prices. In each of those meetings, they’ve done a whole lot of finger pointing and little else, leaving politicians from both political parties to discuss what a revamped pharmaceutical supply chain could look like.

Here’s hoping something happens sooner than later.

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