Virus warning for Merck’s $20,000 drug-coated asthma pill

On Tuesday, after a cost-benefit analysis on Merck’s drug-coated asthma drug was completed, analysts and investors were quick to pour cold water on the company’s hopes for a bright future in cancer and vaccines.

The drug, called Reslizumab, was introduced in the United States and Europe in 2017, and is sold under the brand name Oslavan in some countries. The pill, which comes in liquid form, is intended to treat asthma through an infusion of the antibiotic erythromycin.

Roughly 4 percent of patients on Oslavan were unable to go into clinical remission, and 1.3 percent developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, a deadly respiratory attack known as ARDS.

Doctors have shown they can modify Oslavan’s effects on asthmatics based on who is on the drug, as well as their compliance rate, according to the analysis.

A requirement for Oslavan treatment was also that patients undergo testing with a biomarker to show their asthma had progressed from current medications. This measure on Oslavan’s efficacy was established by a clinical trial that tested it on about 200,000 asthma patients in the United States.

There were some promising numbers: Doctors found Oslavan showed promise, with more than 60 percent of those with steady asthma showing signs of response over a two-year period. Doctors found about 43 percent of Oslavan patients showed signs of improvement over a two-year period. This is higher than the lung function levels found in patients without advanced disease.

While the results were promising, the report noted, there was a “significant clinical efficacy difference in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in one second), and a significant margin of safety.” FEV1 is the measurement of a person’s ability to inhale and exhale during a certain number of breaths.

The report also did not show a need for more study of Oslavan, nor did it confirm Oslavan’s effects on ARDS. Researchers did not have enough evidence to determine if Oslavan was safe in a larger trial, even if it had shown the drug was effective in earlier trials.

The “prescriptive” report on Oslavan’s effects was completed in June, but the company only released it on Tuesday. Shares of Merck fell 3.9 percent on the news on Tuesday morning.

Merck said, though, that as it waits for its own results from another trial, Oslavan should still be useful to patients. The company declined to comment on the latest report or provide additional insight into its use, according to a company spokesperson.

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