Merck Prepares to Break Into HCV Market With Recent Study Results

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Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) joined the fight against hepatitis C with its most recent clinical study announcement. The company is joining the likes of Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) in producing hepatitis C vaccines, but it is still in the early clinical stages.

The market for hepatitis C is a decent size, and looking at Gilead’s most recent earnings report we can put some numbers to it. Gilead had $4.798 billion in hepatitis C vaccine sales, compared to analysts’ estimates of $4.5 billion.

Merck announced the presentation of results from the initial phase of its C-CREST 1 and 2 Phase 2 clinical development program evaluating two investigational all-oral, triple-combination treatment regimens. These consist of a regimen of grazoprevir, MK-36822 andelbasvir, and a regimen of grazoprevir, MK-3682 and MK-8408 — in treatment-naïve patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotypes 1, 2 or 3 infection.

All 240 enrolled patients completed eight weeks of treatment and reached follow-up 12 weeks after end of treatment.

The most commonly reported adverse events across all regimens with a greater than 10% incidence, were headache (23%), fatigue (20%) and nausea (13%). There were no drug-related serious adverse events and no discontinuations due to adverse events.

Dr. Roy Baynes, senior vice president and head of global clinical development, Merck Research Laboratories, commented on the results:

Merck’s chronic hepatitis C development program continues to focus on the goal of advancing a short-duration treatment regimen that offers high virologic cure rates across all viral genotypes. The strong results observed in this study support the further investigation of the novel triple-combination regimen of grazoprevir, MK-3682 and MK-8408 in patients with chronic hepatitis C.

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Shares of Merck traded up 0.4% to $53.24 Monday morning, with a consensus analyst price target of $62.41 and a 52-week range of $45.69 to $63.62.

Gilead shares were at $102.68, up 0.1%, with a consensus price target of $125.00 and a 52-week trading range of $85.95 to $123.37.