Hepatitis C Drug Will No Longer Be Sold in United States

Popularity of new treatments lead to shrinking demand for Merck's Victrelis.

Popularity of new treatments lead to shrinking demand for Merck’s Victrelis.

As several new breakthrough treatments for hepatitis C virus flood the market, a number of other formerly significant therapies have been left in their wake.

The latest medication rendered obsolete by these new treatments is Merck’s Victrelis, as the company informed the FDA this week that they will no longer be selling the drug in the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal. The announcement follows the path taken by Vertex Pharmaceuticals 3 months ago, when the manufacturer announced it would cease domestic sales of its hepatitis C drug Incivek.

Both protease inhibitors hit the market in 2011 boasting superior cure rates and shorter treatment durations when combined with the treatment standards at the time. The following year, sales for Incivek topped out at $1.2 billion, while Victrelis sales reached approximately $502 million.

Both drugs were still used in combination with interferon injections, which carried with it debilitating side effects, such as flu-like symptoms. Despite robust sales, by 2013 the looming shadow of significant new interferon-free treatments left both Incivek and Victrelis on the sidelines with tumbling sales as patient warehousing began.

In 2013, sales of Incivek declined to $466 million, while sales of Victrelis dropped to $428 million.

Later that year, the opening salvo was fired in the hepatitis C drug revolution, as Gilead Sciences’ Sovaldi hit the market. It was soon joined by Gilead’s Harvoni, Johnson & Johnson’s Olysio, and AbbVie’s Viekira Pak. Both Gilead drugs are estimated to have garnered approximately $12 billion in sales last year, while Olysio reached sales of $2.3 billion, the Journal reported.

A Merck spokesperson told the Journal that Victrelis is being discontinued in the United States as a result of advances in treatment practices and reduced demand for the drug. Victrelis will remain available in countries where it “remains a valuable treatment option.”

An analysis released in late 2014 by CVS showed an increase in the number of eligible HCV patients receiving treatment after the October launch of Harvoni, which was approximately 2.5 times the rate of Sovaldi prescribing following its launch in December 2013.

“The high price of these new hepatitis C treatments and the expanding pool of patients receiving treatment signal a growing and costly trend in treating chronic medical conditions with specialty medicines,” report co-author Troyen A. Brennan, MD, said in a press release. “Hepatitis C is just the beginning, and we need to prepare now for the time when large numbers of patients could be treated effectively with high-cost medicines for a variety of common and more complex conditions.”