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Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK - Analyst Report) announced encouraging results from a phase IIb study on its house dust mite candidate, MK-8237. Results from the study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

The double-blind, single-site, phase IIb study (n = 124) compared the use of 6 Development Units (DU) as well as 12 DU of MK-8237 administered once-daily versus placebo in adults with house dust mite-induced allergic rhinitis, with or without conjunctivitis.

At week 24 of treatment, in the last four hours of the chamber challenge, MK-8237 demonstrated significant dose- and time-dependent reduction in average total nasal symptom score (TNSS). The TNSS score is based on four symptoms comprising itchy nose, blocked nose, runny nose and sneezing. TNSS of -27% and -49% was observed in MK-8237 6 DU and 12 DU, respectively, when compared to placebo.

Merck has already started with the process of screening patients for a phase III study on MK-8237 evaluating the candidate in adolescents and adults with house dust mite-induced allergic rhinitis.

Merck has several allergy candidates in advanced stages of development. Some of the most advanced candidates, which are already under U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) review, include Grastek (Timothy grass pollen allergy) and Ragwitek (ragweed pollen allergy). A response should be out in the first half of 2014.

Merck currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better ranked stocks in the health care sector include Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (ALXN - Analyst Report), Biogen Idec Inc. (BIIB - Analyst Report) and Novo Nordisk (NVO - Analyst Report). While Alexion and Biogen carry a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), Novo Nordisk holds a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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