Merck ready to spotlight potential mega-blockbuster

Four years after Pfizer pulled the plug on its $1 billion development program for the failed cholesterol drug torcetrapib, Merck is on the verge of announcing the first late-stage data on its own high-wire attempt to push a similar type of therapy on to an approval. And the stakes couldn't be higher.

In a feature out this morning, Bloomberg calls anacetrapib potentially one of the biggest new heart drugs to come along in two decades. "If we can add benefits by raising HDL, we could see an enormous public health benefit. But it's a big gamble," Rory Collins, co-director of the University of Oxford's Clinical Trial Service Unit, tells the business news service.

Anacetrapib will take center stage at the American Heart Association meeting next week, where Merck will angle for the pole position in the race with Roche and Lilly to gain regulatory approval for a new HDL therapy. Like torcetrapib, one of the greatest late-stage failures in pharma history, anacetrapib is a CETP inhibitor. But Merck has gone to considerable lengths to prove that its drug is safe, and will have a chance to put the data on display for everyone else to see in just a matter of days.

The cost of developing one of these CETP inhibitors is immense, but the potential returns are far larger. Roche CEO Severin Schwan called the drug category a potential game changer able to gin the kind of mega-blockbuster revenue seen from Lipitor. And Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan agreed, saying that the potential market is in the "billions and billions."

- here's the article from Bloomberg