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Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK), Pfizer Inc. (PFE), and the Dow (.DJI) Hits the Fast Lane Toward 15,000

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published yesterday, after market close.

Merck & Co., Inc.The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped again today, riding a wave that carried the S&P 500 up 1.2% and lifted the Nasdaq 1.8%. The blue chips finished the day with a gain of 129 points, or 0.9%, topping 14,800 at the closing bell.

The Dow got some help from the Federal Reserve, which released the minutes from its Open Market Committee earlier than expected. After learning that 154 people had gotten the release, including employees at some major banks, the central bank was forced to release the notes at 9 a.m. instead of the usual 2 p.m. There was little new information from the Fed, but the news seemed to confirm investors’ belief that the central bankers would keep present market stimulus measures in practice until the economy improves and the unemployment rate comes down. Some at the central bank said they wanted to reduce the Fed’s bond buying, but overall the market interpreted the report favorably. Hopes for a better-than-expected earnings season also appeared to drive stocks higher.

While tech stocks pushed the Nasdaq up nearly 2%, pharmaceuticals were the biggest gainers on the Dow. Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) jumped 2.9% after announcing that the FDA had accepted a new drug application for Noxafil, a drug for the treatment prophylaxis of invasive fungal infections. Merck is seeking approval for daily use of the application, which is already used for patients over the age of 13 who are immunocompromised. The new drug application is the first step in a long approval process, but since the drug is already in use, its chances of passing are significantly higher.

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) received similar good news today, climbing 2.8% after the FDA called its experimental breast cancer drug, Palbociclib, a “breakthrough therapy.” The drug is in late-stage testing and could be a life-saving treatment for many women who suffer from the often-fatal form of cancer.

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