| April 10
April 10 A two-drug combination being tested by
Merck & Co to treat hepatitis C cured 98 percent of
previously untreated patients without cirrhosis in a midstage
clinical trial, providing the latest evidence that the U.S.
drugmaker will be highly competitive in the fast evolving field.
Results of the study called C-Worthy were presented on
Thursday at the annual meeting of the European Association for
the Study of the Liver (EASL) in London. Researchers are due on
Friday to present results of how the Merck pills fared in more
difficult to treat patients, such has those who failed to be
helped by prior treatments and those with more advanced liver
In the arm of the Phase II study presented on Thursday, 43
of 44 patients treated with 100 milligrams of MK-5172 and 50 mg
of MK-8742 once a day for 12 weeks achieved sustained virologic
response (SVR), which is considered cured. One patient relapsed,
Those who have no detectable levels of the hepatitis C virus
in their blood 12 weeks after completing the 12 weeks of
treatment are deemed to have achieved SVR.
Current standard treatments take 24 or 48 weeks, cure about
75 percent of patients and involve miserable side effects that
have led thousands of patients to put off treatment and wait for
highly touted new drugs to become available.
The study also included results of patients treated with the
two Merck drugs plus the older drug ribavirin for both 12 weeks
and eight weeks. But all eyes will be on the ribavirin-free
results as several companies race to produce all-oral treatment
regimens that include neither ribavirin nor interferon, which
are both used in current treatments and cause flu-like symptoms,
anemia and other side effects.
Gilead Sciences Inc, AbbVie and
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co are also developing a new
generation of all-oral hepatitis C treatments that in previous
trials have demonstrated cure rates in excess of 90 percent,
while cutting treatment duration to 12 weeks with few side
Gilead, which later this year could have a one pill, once a
day two-drug regimen approved in the United States, is widely
perceived by Wall Street to be the best of the bunch with some
analysts forecasting annual sales of $9 billion or more.
Merck is a bit behind the other three companies in its
development timeline, but could prove to be the one that gives
Gilead a run for its money as it aims to also produce a one
pill, once a day regimen. The AbbVie and Bristol-Myers programs
involve more pills and more drugs, but equally impressive cure
rates so far in clinical testing.
"Merck has begun a Phase III trial in (previously untreated
patients) using one pill, once per day. This should increase
everyone's confidence that Merck really has a regimen
competitive with Gilead's," ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum
said in a research note.
The Merck anti-viral medicines, which hamper the virus'
ability to replicate in different ways, were tested in patients
who had the genotype 1 form of the virus - the most prevalent
and considered the most difficult to treat.
The most common side effects seen with the Merck drugs were
fatigue, headache and nausea.
An estimated 170 million people are believed to be infected
with hepatitis C worldwide. If left untreated, the progressive
disease can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or the need for a
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Bernard Orr)