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

Vertex Pharmaceuticals

(VRTX) - Get Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated Report


The Vertex drug, known as telaprevir, 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 voted 18-0 Wednesday to recommend approval of a competing hepatitis C drug developed by


(MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. Report


Both telaprevir and boceprevir 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 telaprevir posted to its web site Tuesday, the FDA agreed with Vertex's clinical data demonstrating that the drug increases cure rates for hepatitis C over standard treatment. The FDA raised some concerns about rash caused by telaprevir.

The FDA advisory panel will end Thursday's meeting with a vote on whether to recommend approval of telaprevir. FDA makes the final approval decision. The agency is expected to issue its ruling by May 23.

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Vertex shares closed Wednesday at $55.54.

--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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