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Colon Cancer Drug Good for Patients, Merck

Researchers say German pharmaceutical company Merck's bowel cancer treatment drug could be used in early stages as well. The Darmstadt company's bottom line has already profited.

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Merck headquarters: their third quarter sales are glowing as well

Merck executives presented a new study touting the drug Erbitux's possible use as an early form of cancer treatment at a research congress in Vienna on Monday.

Until now Erbitux, which was fast-tracked for use by the US Food and Drug Administration in February and in Europe in June, was used as a last-ditch form of treatment for bowel, or colon, cancer. Doctors were told to use it only when other chemotherapy drugs didn't work.

Though it hasn't been able to extend patients' lives, the drug did shrink the size of tumors and delay tumor growth. That meant that formerly inoperable tumors were shrunk so small that doctors were easily able to remove them.

According to data presented at the conference on Monday, Erbitux, combined with three other treatments can stop the spread of colon cancer in 98 percent of the patients. The information was good news for patients, said Dr. Martin Lehnert.


"The way in which we treat cancer patients will change significantly in the coming years," he told the conference. "It will greatly improve the quality of life and life expectancy of patients."

Heading for a blockbuster

The drug has already been good news for Merck. With help from Erbitux, Merck had sales of more than €25 million ($31.9 million) in the third quarter. The Darmstadt-based company expects to break the €50 million in sales they had planned for in 2004.


"Erbitux has blockbuster potential in the long run," CEO Bernhard Scheuble told the Financial Times Deutschland earlier this month. A blockbuster drug is one that surpasses €1 billion in sales.

At the moment, the company expects sales to top at around the €500 million mark. Merck got the license to produce the medicine outside North America from IM Clone in early summer. The success of Erbitux is important to the German company after the patent on Glucophage, a diabetes drug expired last year.

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