CAMBRIDGE, Mass. ( TheStreet) -- Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (VRTX - Get Report) experimental hepatitis C drug telaprevir was the star of last week's big hepatitis C research meeting, according to a well-respected doctor in the field who briefed institutional investors this afternoon.
Dr. Stefan Zeuzem of the Saarland University Hospital in Germany was the featured speaker on an investor conference call sponsored by JMP Securities Monday. JMP analyst Liisa Bayko asked Zeuzem to offer his thoughts on the hits and misses coming from last week's annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease.
Zeuzem is a key opinion leader in Hep C, works with most if not all of the experimental drugs in clinical trials, and is therefore widely sought out by professional investors for insights into what's working -- or what's not -- in Hep C drug development.
Among Zeuzem's comments on Monday's conference call:
- Data from Vertex's telaprevir was the most important and discussed during the meeting. The high cure rates seen in the so-called C208 study of treatment-experienced patients were probably as high as the field will ever see with a protease inhibitor. Zeuzem also called the data on twice-daily dosing of telaprevir "convincing," but he's still cautious and would like to see additional, confirmatory data from a larger study.
- The Hep C field is moving quickly to test treatment with two direct anti-virals against the Hep C virus, and hopefully eliminate the need for long-acting interferon and ribavirin -- the current standard of care for the disease. Zeuzem was impressed with the two-week antiviral activity shown in the so-called INFORM-1 study in both treatment-naïve and treatment-experienced patients. This study treats patients with a combination of InterMune's (ITMN) RG7227 and Pharmasset's (VRUS) RG7128. (The study is being co-sponsored by Roche, which co-owns development rights to both drugs.) He also noted that other companies, including Vertex and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), plan to begin their own two-drug direct anti-viral combination studies next year.
- Side effects of earlier-stage Hep C drug continue to raise some concerns, including elevated levels of jaundice and bilirubin in patients treated with Boehringer Ingelheim's BI-'335. Zeuzem said more analysis was needed before the side-effect profile of the drug was clear. Zeuzem said the jury was also still out on Schering-Plough's (SGP) second-generation protease inhibitor narlaprevir, which uses a common HIV drug known as ritonavir to boost blood levels.
- Zalbin, a twice-monthly interferon from Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) and Novartis (NVS), might appeal to some patients who care most about reducing the number of injections required. He was less enthusiastic about another long-acting interferon from Zymogenetics (ZGEN) and Bristol-Myers Squibb, mainly because the drug is so early in development that it may become irrelevant if treatment with interferons and ribavirin are shelved due to the success of direct anti-viral drugs.