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Ahead of the Bell: Merck upgraded

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Merck & Co. climbed in premarket trading on Thursday as an analyst raised his rating and price target for the company after it announced that there was clear evidence in a study that its osteoporosis drug odanacatib was working.

Merck said Wednesday that it was ending the late-stage clinical trial based on an analysis of early results by an independent monitoring committee.

The Whitehouse Station, N.J., company plans to file in the first half of 2013 for marketing approval of odanacatib in the U.S., European Union, and Japan.

John Boris of Citi Investment Research said in a client note that odanacatib could give a spark to a market that has seen its sales decline in recent years.

"Merck is well positioned with an oral, once-weekly first-in-class drug that works differently at building bone than bisphosphonates," Boris said.

The analyst boosted Merck to "Buy" from "Neutral" and increased its price target to $50 from $34.

Merck's stock gained $1.30, or 3.2 percent, to $42.51 more than 2 hours before the market open.