Hep C smackdown: Vertex at $420M, Merck at $31M

It's convenient for hepatitis C market-watchers that Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX) and Merck ($MRK) reported their earnings less than 24 hours apart. There's no need to speculate about how the two companies' dueling drugs will stack up, because both sales figures are already available.

Unfortunately for Merck, the proximity of the third-quarter announcements wasn't echoed by a similar proximity in the numbers. Vertex's Incivek treatment racked up almost $420 million in sales for the period, about 6 times as much as second-quarter revenues. If the pace continues, Vertex will have the fastest-to-blockbuster drug ever. "It looks like it's the best launch of all time in the history of biotech and pharma," ISI Group's Mark Schoenebaum enthused (as quoted by Reuters).

Merck's Victrelis, on the other hand, brought in $31 million, a $10 million increase over Q2's $21 million. That might be solid for some new drugs, but for this product, it's a "disappointing number," Leerink Swann's Seamus Fernandez told Bloomberg.

For now, Incivek is Vertex's only marketed product, and its strong Q3 sales pushed the company to its first profit ever. Merck, on the other hand, had strong sales of other drugs to make up for Victrelis. Its diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet were particularly powerful performers, with 40%-plus increases in sales to $846 million and $350 million, a total of $1.2 billion. The HPV vaccine Gardasil also delivered 41% growth, to $445 million. So don't cry for Merck, pharma watchers. "Across the board, it is a very high-quality quarter," Fernandez said.

- read the Merck announcement
- get the release from Vertex
- check out the Bloomberg story
- see the Reuters coverage