TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Merck & Co. and Roche Holding AG, formerly bitter rivals in the hepatitis C drug market, have expanded their recent collaboration to jointly promote their drugs.
The companies said that their subsidiaries have signed a new nonexclusive agreement to promote Merck’s new drug, Victrelis, worldwide as part of a triple-combination therapy, the new standard for fighting the sometimes-deadly disease.
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., and Roche, headquartered in Switzerland, agreed in May to have their salespeople promote Victrelis along with the two companies’ older hepatitis C drugs. That deal came just days after Victrelis, one of two drugs in a new class expected to transform treatment of the tough-to-cure virus, was approved for sale in the U.S.
On Monday, Victrelis was approved for sale in all 27 European Union countries. Under the new agreement, Roche and Merck salespeople will work in markets including Europe, Asia and Latin America to educate physicians and patients about hepatitis C.
Roche sales reps will promote Victrelis along with Roche’s injected hepatitis C drug, Pegasys, and ribavirin pills. Merck salespeople will promote Victrelis plus its similar injected drug, PEG-Intron, and ribavirin. Ribavirin is available as a generic as well as Merck’s brand, Rebetol, and Roche’s brand, Copegus.
Victrelis and Incivek, approved in late May, are hepatitis C virus protease inhibitors, which block an enzyme needed for the blood-borne virus to copy itself. They’re the first new breakthrough treatments for the liver disease in 20 years. Incivek was developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and will be marketed outside the U.S. by Vertex partner Johnson & Johnson.
The two new drugs will cost roughly $50,000 per treatment, so they are likely to generate billions of dollars in annual sales – and a big battle for market share. Merck was first to market, but the Vertex drug is seen as slightly more effective, with studies suggesting Incivek cures about 80 percent of patients, versus 66 percent for Victrelis.
That’s far better than the typical 40 percent cure rate for what was the mainstay treatment, Copegus or Pegasys with ribavirin. Those drugs can cause nausea, anemia and fatigue for months, and ribavirin can damage or kill a fetus.
Roughly 4 million Americans have hepatitis C, many of them undiagnosed. It can cause liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure or cancer.
Date: July 20, 2011
Source: Associated Press
Filed Under: Drug Discovery