Merck's boceprevir scores high in PhIII hep C trial

Merck says its hepatitis C drug boceprevir hit its primary endpoints in two Phase III studies and will file for an approval of the potential blockbuster by the end of this year. And analysts quickly began to handicap Merck's chances against Vertex, which has compiled a mountain of positive data for its hep C drug telaprevir.

Boceprevir was one of the jewels in Schering-Plough's crown when Merck swept in to buy up the company. Analysts give it high marks and say that the drug has the potential to go on to become a blockbuster producer for Merck. In the boceprevir 48-week treatment group, 66 percent of patients achieved SVR, according to Merck, and in the boceprevir response-guided therapy group, 59 percent of patients achieved SVR, compared to 21 percent of patients in the control group.

But investigators in these two new trials also noted a red flag. In one trial a higher percentage of patients taking the drug had to drop out, citing side effects like anemia. And Vertex shares jumped six percent as analysts had the chance to compare late-stage results.

"If approved, boceprevir may have a tough time competing against Vertex's hepatitis C drug telaprevir, which will also be filed for approval later this year," notes TheStreet's Adam Feuerstein, an avid student of all things regarding telaprevir. "Results from a similar Vertex study in so-called "treatment-naïve" hepatitis C patients released in May showed that telaprevir plus the standard of care achieved a cure rate of 75%.

- here's the Merck release
- read the Reuters story
- also check out the piece from TheStreet