Incivek storms hep C market with $75M launch

There's no doubt that the hepatitis C market was waiting for Incivek. In its first five weeks on the market, the Vertex Pharmaceuticals drug reaped nearly $75 million in sales. That's more than twice the $31 million analysts had been expecting. The question now is whether that pace can be sustained.

Incivek is one of two new game-changing drugs to hit the hepatitis C market. Both the Vertex drug and Merck's Victrelis are designed to be added to standard hepatitis C therapy, and they've proven to increase the cure rate and shorten the duration of the sometimes-painful treatment. But Incivek had been widely predicted to garner a bigger share of the market, thanks to data showing a 79% cure rate and to the possibility of even shorter treatment. Plus, Incivek is considered easier to use.

As Reuters notes, more than 3,000 patients had started on Incivek by mid-July, with a mix of people who had failed on older drugs and those who were new to hep C therapy. There's no way to tell how many of those scrips went to patients who had delayed treatment in anticipation of the new drug, but market-watchers had speculated that thousands were waiting on the sidelines for Incivek to make its debut.

"This is a really, really impressive revenue ramp," Sanford Bernstein analyst Geoffrey Porges told Reuters. "You run this trend forward and you get to $200 million in revenue in the third quarter." The strong sales helped offset the high cost of Incivek's launch, plus higher R&D expenses at the company, giving it a smaller-than-expected loss.

So far, Incivek scripts are outpacing Victrelis three to one. Merck didn't break out the drug's sales in its Q2 earnings announcement, so we have no way to compare dollar figures, at least not yet; executives will probably discuss it during today's conference call.

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