Merck may have won the race to get the first new hepatitis C drug approved, but patients might actually take Vertex's drug first. Remember that Victrelis dosing doesn't begin until after patients are treated with four weeks of interferon and ribavirin. Anyone choosing Vertex's Incivek, however, starts taking the drug on the first day of treatment.
Merck said Victrelis will land on pharmacy shelves as soon as today, but if Incivek is approved Monday and also launches quickly, it's likely that Vertex will win the race to actually treat the first patient.
Which drug is approved or dosed first matters little. Consider it an answer to a trivia question one day. What matters most is which drug -- Victrelis or Incivek -- generates the most revenue and grabs the most market share.
On that issue, I lean Vertex's way. Incivek is a more potent drug. It cures more hep C patients and does so more simply and faster than Victrelis. Merck is a marketing powerhouse with a lot of experience in hep C. The marketing deal signed between Merck and Roche this week is an important reminder that Merck isn't going to concede any ground to its younger and less experienced rival. But at the end of the day, I believe Incivek's strengths outweigh Merck's marketing savvy.-- Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.
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