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Hepatitis | Vertex Bests Merck In New Hepatitis C Drug Sales

Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ Incivek, trumped the rival drug Victrelis from Merck in third-quarter sales. The tally: $420 million for Incivek and $31 million for Victrelis.

Mark Schoenebaum, biotechnology analyst at the ISI Group, said that the Incivek introduction appeared to be the fastest new drug introduction ever. Cumulative sales of the drug might cross the billion-dollar mark ” the milepost for a blockbuster – as early as the current quarter.

Both drugs were approved within two weeks of each other in May, so the third quarter was their first full quarter of sales. While analysts had expected Incivek to outsell Victrelis, they did not expect such an imbalance.

Merck executives said Friday morning that Victrelis has about a 25 percent market share and that sales in future quarters would reflect this. They said sales were unusually lower in the third quarter in part because of inventory adjustments. Also, since Victrelis is used over a longer period of time than Incivek, it takes Merck longer to realize the revenues from each patient than it does Vertex.

The drugs represent a revolution in treatment of hepatitis C. When combined with older drugs, they sharply increase the probability that a patient will be cured. And for many patients, use of one of the new drugs shaves months off the typical yearlong treatment time.

The rapid uptake of Incivek could represent pent-up demand. Some patients contemplating treatment had been waiting for the new drugs to be approved before starting. (Doctors and corporate executives referred to this as patients being “warehoused.” )

So there is a chance that once that pent-up demand is satisfied, sales will slow. Indeed, in reporting its earnings late Thursday, Vertex showed a slide indicating that weekly sales of Incivek had begun to level off. In part that is because some hepatitis C specialists have run out of capacity to take on new patients.

But Vertex executives said that doctors who did not previously treat hepatitis C were taking

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