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Merck says drug reduced ragweed allergy symptoms

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. (AP) -- Merck & Co. said Monday that its experimental allergy tablet reduced reactions to allergic reactions to ragweed and helped patients use less medication to treat their symptoms.

The company said it will file for marketing approval of its allergy immunotherapy tablets in 2013. It plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve the tablets as treatments for ragweed and grass allergies. It is also studying a treatment for allergies brought on by house dust mites. The tablets are designed to reduce the severity of allergies over time, and they could be an alternative to repeated allergy shots.

Patients in the study were given one of two doses of the allergy tablets or a placebo. They took the tablets for a full year, including about 16 weeks before ragweed allergy season began, and recorded their allergy symptoms and use of other allergy medications in a daily journal. Merck combined the symptoms and medication use into daily scores and compared results for the patients over the 15 days with the highest ragweed pollen count.

Merck said patients who took the lower dose of the allergy tablet had a 21-percent reduction in symptoms and a 34-percent reduction in medication use compared to patients who took the placebo, and patients who took the larger dose had a 27-percent reduction in symptoms and used 45 percent less medication.

The late-stage study involved 565 adults age 18 to 50. Most of them had multiple allergies.

Merck said the most common side effects of its allergy tablet were itchiness of the mouth and ear, and throat irritation. It plans to report further results from the study Tuesday at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Shares of Merck rose 36 cents to $38.29 in morning trading.