Hepatitis C has become one of the hottest categories in drug research as companies race to develop a combination therapy without injections and debilitating side effects. Some have had their promising candidates fail after extensive testing, due to dangerous side effects, but Gilead Sciences Inc is already raking in billions of dollars from its ground breaking new drug, Sovaldi.
Recently, Merck & Co spent around $4 Billion for Idenix Pharmaceuticals Inc., to produce a lucrative Combo therapy to cure hepatitis C.
Merck & Co an American pharmaceutical company has been testing two drugs together, MK-5172 and MK-8742, that the Food and Drug Administration has deemed a breakthrough therapy. Merck will soon start late-stage testing of the two drugs together and presumably will study them in combinations with the Idenix drugs.
Though, Sovaldi appears to dominate the hepatitis C market, outselling Johnson & Johnson’s Olysio. But there’s plenty of room for Merck and others because Sovaldi can’t be taken by some patients with multiple illnesses or certain hepatitis C subtypes and the price of the drug is also way too expensive.
The payoff for Merck could come from a triple therapy that may cure patients with all genotypes, or strains, of the hepatitis C virus in as little as four to six weeks, its research chief, Roger Perlmutter, said in an interview.
The deal comes as drug makers aim to better compete with Gilead Sciences Inc’s GILD.O Sovaldi, an $84,000 treatment approved in December that generated an unprecedented $2.3 billion in sales in the first few months on the market. Sources say that, “The problem is when Sovaldi drugs come to market, they’re out of reach of most people,” he said. “Most people can’t afford a drug that’s $1,000 a pill, especially indigent people.”
Merck is primarily interested in IDX21437, an Idenix drug known as a nucleotide, or “nuke.” Merck plans to combine the drug with two of its own drugs that work by different mechanisms for a triple-drug regimen that could potentially cure most types of hepatitis C in less than two months.
That triple regimen, however, is probably about three years away from reaching the market, assuming clinical trials are successful and regulators approve it, analysts say. Merck hopes to bring the double-drug regimen to market first.
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