Even with a depressed stock price, Vertex carries a $10 billion market valuation, which illustrates quite well investors' high expectations for a successful Incivek launch. Vertex is counting on Incivek to carry the company to profitability for the first time. Merck, on the other hand, isn't as reliant on Victrelis financially.
"We're getting great feedback from the field. The launch is going well and is as expected," said Vertex spokesman Zach Barber. Vertex declined to discuss the Incivek launch in more detail until the company reports second-quarter financial results in late July.
Merck, likewise, said it was happy with the early Victrelis launch.
"Physicians are excited to have new treatment options for hepatitis C and they are prescribing Victrelis," said Denise Allen Williams, Merck's chief marketing officer for the U.S.In addition to fielding sales forces to target doctors who treat hepatitis C patients, both Vertex and Merck have invested in public education and consumer campaigns to raise awareness of hepatitis C and prod people at risk to be tested. Rocker and hepatitis C patient Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band is featured in one of Merck's public health campaigns. Allman had a liver transplant one year ago due to severe damage from chronic hepatitis C infection. Allman will play a benefit concert on July 27, the eve of World Hepatitis Day. Nearly 3.2 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, a potentially serious disease that can damage the liver over time and lead to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer. Approximately 60-80% of people infected with chronic hepatitis C virus do not have symptoms. The old gold-standard treatment regimen for hepatitis C -- 48 weekly injections of interferon and daily doses of oral ribavirin -- cured about 40% of patients. Adding Victrelis to that regimen shortens treatment duration for some and improves cure rates to more than 60%. Likewise, Vertex's Incivek will shortens treatment and boosts cure rates to as high as 80%. Higher cure rates are expected to expand the pool of hepatitis C patients seeking treatment. Doctors queried in early June said they expect the volume of treated hepatitis C patients to more than double in the first year of the Incivek and Vicrelis launches, according to a survey conducted by Leerink Swann released Monday.
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