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BETHESDA, Md. (

TheStreet

) -- An FDA advisory panel meets today to review a new hepatitis C drug from

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

.

The Merck drug, known as boceprevir, is one of the most advanced entrants in a new class of oral drugs that acts directly against the hepatitis C virus and promises to radically improve cure rates while cutting treatment duration.

The same panel of FDA-appointed experts reconvenes tomorrow to review

Vertex Pharmaceuticals'

(VRTX) - Get Report

hepatitis C drug telaprevir.

Both boceprevir and telaprevir could be approved and launched later this year, transforming the way hepatitis C is treated and leading to blockbuster sales.

In a preliminary review of boceprevir posted to its web site Monday, the FDA agreed with Merck's clinical data demonstrating that the drug increases cure rates for hepatitis C over standard treatment. The FDA did raise some concerns about boceprevir's safety, including higher rates of anemia and reported psychiatric problems.

The FDA advisory panel will end Wednesday's meeting with a vote on whether to recommend approval of boceprevir. FDA makes the final approval decision. The agency is expected to issue its ruling in early May.

Merck shares closed Tuesday $35.06.

--Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.

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Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback;

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