Merck gets Roche to sell HCV drug in EU, elsewhere

The showdown for marketing new oral drugs against hepatitis C is getting hotter. On the heels of gaining EU approval of HCV drug Victrelis (boceprevir), Merck ($MRK) has inked a new deal with Swiss drug giant Roche to promote the treatment as part of a triple combo therapy against the chronic liver disease in Europe and other global markets.

The pact follows Merck's previous agreement with Roche to help sell the drug in the U.S. With this new pact, Roche will be aiding in promotions of the drug in other key markets, including Latin America, Asia and Europe, according to Merck. The EU marketing nod on Monday gives the two companies a head start across the Atlantic as Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX) and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) rival medicine Incivek awaits such approval.

"Reaching physicians with important information about the use of Victrelis in combination with peg/riba is essential as we enter this new era in the field of chronic hepatitis C," Adam Schechter, Merck's executive VP and president, global human health, said. "We're pleased to work with Roche to help physicians help patients with chronic hepatitis C around the world."

Merck appears to be counting on marketing might to give it a boost in its efforts to get doctors to prescribe Victrelis. Previous clinical trials have shown that Vertex's drug might have an edge over Merck's treatment in terms of clearing visible signs of HCV infections in patients. And most analysts have projected Incivek to grab more market share than Merck's drug.

- here's Merck's release
- check out the report from Dow Jones Newswires