Merck Nixes Development of Two Hepatitis C Drugs Due to Overcrowded Market

The pharma giant will now focus on its PD-1 cancer immunotherapy Keytruda.

Following Janssen Sciences’ announcement to halt the development of its investigational hepatitis C virus (HCV) combination therapy, Merck & Co has axed 2 HCV drugs in its pipeline.

The decision further supports competitors’ belief that the market has peaked, according to Pharmaphorum Media.

Gilead’s blockbuster HCV drugs sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni), and sofosbuvir/velpatasvir (Epclusa) has transformed the marketplace by curing many patients of the virus. As a result, the number of patients being treated is shrinking and sales have fallen significantly, according to Pharmaphorum Media.

Revenue from Gilead’s HCV franchise fell from $4 billion in last year’s Q2 to roughly $2.9 billion in the second quarter of 2017, according to Pharmaphorum Media.

Merck is axing the combinations MK-3682B (grazoprevir/ruzasvir/uprifosbuvir) and MK-3682C (ruzasvir/uprifosbuvir). The company already markets elbasvir/grazoprevir (Zepatier), which was launched early last year.

“We will continue to study Zepatier to understand even more about its role in treating chronic hepatitis C infection and will continue to work with others to help bring Zepatier to appropriate patients with chronic hepatitis C genotype 1 or infection, the genotypes which make up the majority of patients with chronic hepatitis C infection,” said Dr Eliav Barr, senior vice president of global clinical development, infectious diseases and vaccines at Merck Research Laboratories.

Merck has now turned its attention towards the development of pembrolizumab (Keytruda), a PD-1 cancer immunotherapy. According to Pharmaphorum, this market is also becoming increasingly crowded, as made evident by new papers on pembrolizumab set to be published at the World Conference on Lung Cancer later this month.

Data regarding pembrolizumab includes the treatment as a monotherapy, in novel combinations, and in real-world settings.

Abstracts at the conference include an updated analysis on pembrolizumab versus platinum-based chemotherapy in advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).