Vertex vows to race ahead with interferon-free combo for hep C

Determined to try and keep pace with rival next-gen hepatitis C treatments in the pipeline, Vertex ($VRTX) today unveiled a slate of somewhat positive interim midstage results for an all-oral combo regimen that includes its game-changing drug Incivek along with the experimental VX-222--its non-nucleoside polymerase inhibitor--and ribavirin.

The standard goal for new hepatitis C drugs is the sustained elimination of all signs of the virus by week 12, allowing patients to stop treatment, though developers are aiming for the fastest cure rates possible. Vertex noted that 11 of 46 treatment naïve patients with the genotype 1a and 1b virus met the criteria of having "undetectable hepatitis C virus at weeks two and eight of treatment and were therefore eligible to stop all treatment at 12 weeks. Nine of these 11 patients achieved SVR4 (undetectable hepatitis C virus four weeks after the end of all treatment)." Data showed that viral loads were below the "lower limit of quantification" for 83% of the patients at week 12.

Based on the data, Vertex says it will push ahead with a Phase IIb study of the interferon-free combo, anticipating that investigators can nail late-stage data for an NDA to the FDA as early as late 2014--keeping on an ambitious development schedule.

"Our ultimate goal is to develop well-tolerated, interferon-free treatment regimens with high viral cure rates and short treatment durations for people with hepatitis C," said Vertex CSO Peter Mueller. "We believe we're well-positioned to achieve this goal by exploring various combinations within our portfolio that includes Incivek, VX-222 and two structurally-distinct nucleotide polymerase inhibitors."

Those two nucleotide polymerase inhibitors he referred to are ALS-2200 and ALS-2158, which were licensed in from Alios and perhaps represent Vertex's best shot at gaining an edge over treatments being studied at rival companies. Vertex said today that it has begun the first 7-day viral kinetic studies of ALS-2200 and ALS-2158 in people with genotype 1 hepatitis C. Safety and viral kinetic data from these studies are expected in the second quarter of 2012, enabling the launch of midstage studies in the second half of 2012.

- here's the press release