NEW YORK, Sept 14 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
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, editing by Bernard Orr)