Vertex Pharmaceuticals shares ($VRTX) got a fresh boost yesterday after the Boston-based developer unveiled another round of promising data on its closely-watched hepatitis C drug telaprevir. In a mid-stage trial the drug eliminated signs of the virus after four weeks of therapy in 70 percent of patients also afflicted with HIV. That compares to just five percent of the placebo arm of a group that had not yet begun an anti-retroviral treatment.
While still in Phase II, Vertex is using this program to make a case for telaprevir among a large patient population. Roughly 30 percent of HIV patients are co-infected with hepatitis C. Researchers also concluded that telaprevir eliminated the virus in 75 percent of patients taking Atripla and 64 percent of the Reyataz patients in the 60-patient study. And Vertex will push ahead with a Phase III study for this group as it awaits the FDA's decision on its initial marketing application for a drug that is widely expected to grab a blockbuster portion of the hepatitis C market.
"Research in hepatitis C has shown that people who respond early to treatment have a higher likelihood of achieving a viral cure," said Robert Kauffman, M.D., Ph.D., chief medical officer at Vertex. "These interim results are encouraging because they showed a high proportion of people in the study had a rapid viral response to telaprevir. We will use what we are learning from this study to inform the design of a Phase III co-infection study of telaprevir planned for the end of the year."