DARMSTADT (dpa-AFX) - The Darmstadt-based Merck Group has once again seen a major hopeful from its pharmaceuticals business flop on the way to approval. As the pharmaceutical and chemical company announced on Monday evening, two advanced studies on the cancer drug Xevinapant have been discontinued. The drug candidate was intended for the treatment of head and neck cancer. This was not well received on the stock market.

On Tuesday morning, the shares slumped by almost 10 percent to just under 151 euros. They slipped to their lowest level since the beginning of May. Only the shares of aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which had lowered its annual targets, were similarly weak in Germany's leading index, the Dax. The Dax fell by 1.3 percent.

Xevinapant was in the last of three clinical trial phases that a drug has to go through before a pharmaceutical company can apply for approval. At Merck, the cancer drug was seen as a beacon of hope to compensate for the expiry of important patents on current sales drivers.

One trial involves a combination of the drug with radiochemotherapy in patients with head and neck tumors. According to Merck, the trial is not expected to achieve its primary objective. Patients were expected to survive longer event-free than in the comparator therapy. In addition, a study for a combination of xevinapant with radiotherapy was terminated.

The Darmstadt-based company took the failure of the two advanced trials as an opportunity to discontinue the entire research program with the cancer drug Xevinapant.

Analyst Brian Balchin from the investment firm Jefferies had assigned a probability of only five percent to the discontinuation of the trials for use in locally advanced head and neck tumors. The expert was already anticipating a mid to high single-digit percentage discount on the Merck share price before the start of trading.

In principle, investors could now question the company's ability in terms of research and development, according to Balchin. Not least in view of the recent disappointing trial data for the drug Evobrutinib.

It was only in December that Merck suffered a setback with Evobrutinib for multiple sclerosis. Two pivotal studies investigating the safety and efficacy of evobrutinib had not produced the desired results. The Darmstadt-based company had originally hoped to launch a new "blockbuster" on the market with Evobrutinib - in other words, a blockbuster with sales in the billions./mne/he/mis/tih