Merck puts faith in hepatitis, c. difficile drugs

NEW YORK, Sept 14 Wed Sep 14, 2011 4:46pm EDT

NEW YORK, Sept 14 (Reuters) - The head of infectious diseases at Merck & Co (MRK.N) said the company's future all-oral treatments for hepatitis C and its experimental drug for infections with clostridium difficile bacteria could transform treatment and reap big sales.

Merck and biotechnology company Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc (VRTX.O) earlier this year introduced rival new oral treatments for hepatitis C that work by blocking the protein protease. But they both must be taken with an injectable interferon that prolongs treatment and causes flu-like side effects.

Roger Pomerantz, who was named head of Merck's infectious disease segment last year, estimated the highly effective new hepatitis C drugs target only about 10-15 million people in developing countries and some emerging markets.

By contrast, he said a newer all-oral treatment regimen that eliminates interferon could target as many as 180 million patients globally, including those in remote and rural regions of Africa and South America.

"We're at just the tip of the iceberg" with current treatments, he said in an interview on Wednesday. "The big change will be when we can provide a simple, compact all-oral regimen." (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, editing by Bernard Orr)

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