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Merck, Roche to Work Together on Marketing Hepatitis C Treatments in U.S.
 
 
  bloomberg.com
By Naomi Kresge - May 17, 2011 3:20 PM ET
 
"Triple combination therapy for hepatitis C marks a major change in the way this disease is treated" said Pascal Soriot, Roche Pharmaceuticals Division, Chief Operating Officer. "The use of these medicines in combination offers better treatment outcomes for patients. Roche will work with Merck to provide health care professionals and patients with education about the management of hepatitis C. Both companies will also collaborate to develop improved therapies for this serious disease"
 
Roche Holding AG (ROG) and Merck & Co. will work together to market treatments for hepatitis C in the U.S., promoting Merck's new boceprevir with an older drug from Roche in a market estimated to reach $15 billion annually by 2019.
 
Merck isn't messing around with its new hepatitis C drug. It has now enlisted a powerhouse partner in its bid to fight for market share against Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The two drug giants will work together to raise awareness among doctors and patients about the new treatment for hepatitis C, the companies said. The companies also said they are working together to extend the agreement to other developed and emerging markets globally.
 
Researchers affiliated with both companies will collaborate to explore new combinations of investigational and marketed medicines. The aim is to expedite the availability of potential new treatment regimens for patients with HCV.
 
This news must have salespeople at Vertex chomping at the bit, as they are still awaiting the green light from the FDA to begin selling their own protease inhibitor, telaprevir (Incivek), in the U.S. The Merck drug, and Vertex's, are aiming to create a new standard of care for hepatitis C treatment by greatly increasing the cure rate for this chronic liver infection compared with the two standard drugs alone
 
The two drugmakers' researchers will work together to develop drug cocktails to fight hepatitis C, a virus that may linger in the body for decades, destroying the liver. Financial details of the agreement weren't disclosed in a statement today.
 
The deal gives Basel, Switzerland-based Roche access to the first new hepatitis C treatment in almost a decade. U.S. regulators approved Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck's boceprevir on May 13. The drug is likely to compete with telaprevir, a Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Johnson & Johnson medicine that's awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval.
 
"In essence, the Merck-Roche agreement effectively tries to shut telaprevir out of the market to some degree," Jack Scannell, a London-based analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd., wrote in a note to investors today. Scannell rates Roche's shares "market perform."
 
Revenue from boceprevir may surpass $725 million by 2013, according to the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
 
Under today's agreement, Roche will include boceprevir in its marketing on the use of Pegasys, the companies said. Pegasys has about three-quarters of the market for interferon in hepatitis C, Scannell said.
 
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Roche to co-promote Merck's Victrelis in US
 
mmm-online.com
Marc Iskowitz
May 17, 2011
 
Roche will help promote Merck's newly approved hepatitis C drug Victrelis (boceprevir) under a strategic partnership that may help bolster the firms' chances in an upcoming market share battle.
 
The agreement stunned Wall Street, since Merck and Roche already sell rival versions of a standard hepatitis C treatment. At the same time, the deal makes sense because those rival therapies, known as pegylated interferons, will form the foundation of new hepatitis C treatment regimens where Victrelis and Vertex's Incivek (telaprevir), whose PDUFA date is May 23rd, are entering the market.
 
Victrelis' approval last Friday set up what is widely predicted to be a fierce battle for market share with Incivek. With the two protease inhibitors coming down the home stretch of phase III trials, data had narrowed differences between the two, but most analysts still have been giving the edge to Incivek. Merck crossed the finish line first, securing an on-time approval and fairly broad label that implies the drug works with its own or Roche's pegylated interferon. The company said it will begin shipments to pharmacies within a week.
 
Since then Merck has taken steps to leverage its pre-existing position in the pegylated interferon space. It set the Victrelis price competitively at $1,100/week wholesale, arguably less than it could have charged for a novel medication. That alone could boost uptake, wrote Credit Suisse analyst Catherine Arnold, telling investors, "We expect MRK to use pricing and other tactics to help boost market share given the presence they already have in the hepatitis C market with PegIntron and Rebetol to battle against Incivek, which is generally regarded as the more potent drug of the two."
 
As for Merck's latest tactic, Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson pointed out that Victrelis was studied mostly in combination with PEGIntron, which has lower market share than Roche's Pegasys, something that could have capped Victrelis' uptake. "Now, with Roche on board, this potential shortcoming gets more than removed, in our opinion," noted Anderson.
 
Vertex is unlikely to strike a similar deal with Roche, since doing so would require Roche to co-promote a competing product. "In essence, the Merck/Roche agreement effectively tries to shut telaprevir out of the market to some degree," Anderson observed. "Clearly, physicians will still use telaprevir regardless of the Merck/Roche agreement because of its better efficacy (offset by its unique skin rash), but Victrelis' competitive position is undoubtedly strengthened by the new collaboration."
 
The agreement covers the US market and may be extended to other countries, the companies said.
 
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Merck and Roche join forces to sell, develop blockbuster hep C cocktails
 
May 17, 2011
 
fiercebiotech.com
 
Roche says it will promote Victrelis (boceprevir) to physicians as part of a triple combination therapy regimen, starting with the United States, while Merck and Roche will collaborate on educating physicians and patients about hepatitis C, including diagnosis. The companies are also planning to work together to extend the agreement to other developed and emerging markets globally.
 
This new pact underscores the bright future that lies ahead for new cocktail therapies that promise to cure hepatitis C quickly and make it a more manageable disease for millions of people. It also reflects the major marketing forces that are being brought to bear here as new treatments offering major improvements to the current drug standards are approved. Vertex is considered the odds-on favorite for an FDA approval of its hep C treatment telaprevir later this month. And more treatments are in the pipeline in pursuit of a market that is expected to swell from $3 billion to $10 billion in just a few years.
 
"Triple combination therapy for hepatitis C marks a major change in the way this disease is treated," said Pascal Soriot, the COO of Roche Pharmaceuticals Division. "The use of these medicines in combination offers better treatment outcomes for patients. Roche will work with Merck to provide health care professionals and patients with education about the management of hepatitis C. Both companies will also collaborate to develop improved therapies for this serious disease."
 
 
 
 
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