May 24, 2011
Most major drug developers are now angling for a piece of the hepatitis C treatment market, which is expected to balloon with the improved treatment responses of new combination regimens.
"There are patients lined up waiting for new drugs," said Eliav Barr, vice president of infectious diseases at Merck, which recently gained approval for Victrelis (boceprevir). "There are people getting liver transplants and liver cancer. That's where the pressure was coming from."
CDC estimates 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C virus, two-thirds of them baby boomers. Many discover they have HCV only when they purchase life insurance and lab results indicate the presence of HCV antibodies, said Melissa Palmer, medical director of hepatology at NYU Hepatology Associates in Long Island.
"People may have non-specific symptoms like fatigue, so they don't really know what it is," Palmer said.
Two-thirds of patients taking Victrelis-based therapy achieved a sustained virological response, as did 79 percent of those on a regimen including Incivek (telaprevir), the new HCV treatment from Vertex Pharmaceuticals. By comparison, only about 40 percent of patients receiving ribavirin and peginterferon combination therapy alone achieved SVR. With both new therapies, many patients were successfully treated in a shorter amount of time, as well.
"I think we've set a really high bar," said Camilla Graham, vice president of global medical affairs at Vertex. "We're looking for high cure rates for as short a treatment period as possible. To be able to shorten the treatment period to 24 weeks is a big step forward."
"The researchers want to copy the playbook of HIV and hit [HCV] at every step of the life cycle," said Seamus Levine-Wilkinson, a Decision Resources analyst. "That's why the combination therapies are the focus of everyone."
The crowning achievement will be an all-oral therapy that excludes interferon, said Barr. "The field is working hard in that direction," he added.