Vertex sales lag as hep C patients pass on Incivek

Incivek sales plummeted by 51% to $222.8 million.--Courtesy of Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX) watched its once-high-flying hepatitis C drug go into a nosedive for the fourth quarter. Incivek sales plummeted by 51% to $222.8 million, as fewer new patients elected to start therapy.

There's good reason for that: A host of new, oral treatments are racing toward the market, so some patients are waiting around. Though Incivek was seen as a ground-breaking drug when it was approved in 2011, its hep C rivals have made a lot of progress since then. Now, the promise of an all-oral cocktail--rather than Incivek added to injectable interferon--is just too alluring.

Vertex has its own oral hep C treatment in the works--and has teamed up with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) to move it forward--but Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and AbbVie ($ABBV) are farther ahead. Gilead plans to ask FDA to approve its sofosbuvir, in combination with the already approved antiviral ribavirin, in the middle of this year. AbbVie has a much-watched triple-combo of antivirals moving into Phase III. And other companies are in the race as well.

So, that leaves Incivek in a holding pattern. Leerink Swann's Howard Liang wasn't surprised by the sales decline; prescription data had hinted that Incivek prescriptions were lagging. Vertex's new drug for cystic fibrosis patients, Kalydeco, bolstered sales, with 11% quarter-to-quarter growth to $58.5 million. And that's pretty much the expected pattern going forward: Incivek on the wane and Kalydeco on the rise, with Vertex officials looking forward to their own all-oral cocktail.

For 2013, Vertex is looking at $1.1 billion to $1.25 billion in total revenue, with up to $320 million of that coming from Kalydeco as the drug rolls out in the U.K. and in more European markets. Liang figures on $600 million to $750 million from Incivek.

- get the Vertex press release
- read the Boston Business Journal story

Special Report: Hep C pill race report 2012: Gilead, others rush toward pharma gold