Merck pursuing next-generation opportunities in cardiometabolic drugs

The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Rahway, New Jersey, New Jersey

By Mariam Sunny and Sneha S K

(Reuters) -Merck is focused on second- and third-generation opportunities in the cardiometabolic drugs market, which includes weight-loss treatments, the company said on Tuesday.

"We think more in terms of small-molecule orals, versus injectables. That's the preferred route," CEO Robert Davis said at the Goldman Sachs Global Healthcare Conference.

Merck is eyeing market opportunities with additional potential benefits of weight-loss treatments through drug combinations with "good tolerability and good combinability".

Davis' comments on Tuesday echo those from January, when he said showing outcomes for cardiovascular, diabetes and conditions other than weight management would make it easier for drugs to get insurance reimbursements.

The weight-loss drug market is estimated to be worth about $150 billion in annual global sales by the early 2030s and is currently dominated by Novo Nordisk's Wegovy and Eli Lilly's Zepbound, both belonging to the GLP-1 class.

GLP-1 drugs, which help slow digestion and reduce hunger by triggering a feeling of fullness, are now being studied to see whether they can improve health in other ways.

Merck said earlier this year that it was seeking GLP-1 treatments with benefits beyond weight loss as the drugmaker develops its own candidate, efinopegdutide, for a type of serious fatty liver disease now known as metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH).

The experimental drug showed a "compelling" weight-loss benefit, the company said last year.

"We're very interested in the sub-segments of GLP biology that's related to MASH," Dean Li, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Mariam Sunny and Sneha S K in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Sriraj Kalluvila)