Merck targets high-risk military veterans for hepatitis C lessons

Veterans are three times more likely to have hepatitis C than the general populationand Merck & Co. wants to make sure they know that.

The pharma giant, which makes the hep C-fighting therapy Zepatier, has partnered up with the American Liver Foundation, which will join educational events in Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Diego to speak with veterans about their risk factors, dole out tips and resources for living with hep C, and provide info about testing and treatment.

The awareness push comes as Merck has been focusing on veterans as a market for Zepatier, which was third to the next-gen hep C market after Gilead Sciences, with its megablockbuster meds, and AbbVie's Viekira Pak. In May of last year, executives at rival AbbVie told investors the New Jersey drugmaker had introduced steeper-than-expected discounts for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, snapping up a good portion of AbbVie’s market share in that segment.

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Those gains helped Zepatier churn out $555 million in 2016 sales, and for the first six months of 2017, that total was already up to $895 million.

Zepatier’s growth is important for Merck, which recently canned a pair of hep C development projects in the face of increasing competition.

“This decision was made based on a review of available phase 2 efficacy data and in consideration of the evolving marketplace and the growing number of treatment options available for patients with chronic HCV infection,” the company said in a statement, adding that Merck would instead focus on maximizing Zepatier’s potential.


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Meanwhile, Merck isn’t the first hep C drugmaker to home in on a specific group of high-risk people for its awareness efforts. Earlier this year, Gilead Sciences aimed an educational push at baby boomers, encouraging the 75 million members of that generation1 in 30 of whom has hepatitis C and may not know itto get tested for the virus.