Roche Hepatitis C Treatment Gains Half of Market Share From Schering-Plough
The hepatitis C drug Pegasys, which is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Roche, has gained half of the market share from Schering-Plough's Peg-Intron hepatitis C treatment after being available for barely one year, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Both drugs are "long-acting interferons" that are injected under the skin to boost the immune system to combat the hepatitis C virus and are taken in combination with ribavirin, an antiviral drug that increases the drugs' effectiveness. Schering-Plough's Peg-Intron had been on the market for nearly two years when Roche introduced Pegasys a year ago, according to the AP/Inquirer. To compete with Schering-Plough, Roche hired more sales representatives to reach out to the 15,000 U.S. doctors who specialize in HCV, gave 12-week samples of its drug to about 12,000 patients and offered wholesalers a 43% discount on its version of ribavirin, called Copegus. According to Liz Coyle of health information company IMS Health, Pegasys has captured 50% of the HCV market from Peg-Intron, with approximately 19,000 prescriptions dispensed for each drug. The number of people being treated for HCV is a "tiny fraction" of the four million Americans who have the virus, because most either do not know they are infected or cannot afford the $25,000 course of treatment, according to the AP/Inquirer. Schering-Plough spokesperson Bob Consalvo said that the company had erred in cutting its sales staff last year, but he said that the company plans to restore its sales force and offer discounts, according to the AP/Inquirer (Johnson, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/22).
New drugs are needed to treat HCV because current therapies from Roche and Schering-Plough -- which boost the immune system rather than attack the virus -- are ineffective for 60% of patients with the most common form of the virus, according to Investor's Business Daily. A "handful" of biotech companies are working to develop new HCV treatments, but the companies are still in the early stages of the process. Researchers are trying to develop drugs that attack the virus directly and have fewer side effects than current immune-boosting therapies, according to IBD.
Rigel Pharmaceuticals plans to soon begin early studies of an HCV drug that the company hopes will "block the virus from growing inside the cell," according to Raul Rodriguez, Rigel's senior vice president of business development.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals' drug Merimepodib targets an enzyme "critical" to HCV replication and cuts the energy level in cells infected with the virus, according to IBD. Phase II clinical studies of Merimepodib showed that 86% of patients taking the highest dose of the drug experienced undetectable viral loads, compared with 30% of patients who were taking a placebo. Late stage trials for the drug are scheduled for the second half of 2004, according to Vertex CEO Joshua Boger.
Isis Pharmaceuticals' Isis 14803 drug, which is also taken in combination with ribavirin, is currently in Phase II trials. Earlier studies using the combination treatment showed that five of 17 patients experienced "at least" a 90% reduction in virus levels, according to IBD.
Chiron is in the early stages of testing an experimental HCV vaccine that could both treat patients with the virus and prevent HCV infection.