Vertex jumps on early hep C scrip numbers

This could be the drug industry version of Hollywood's first-weekend box office revenues. Vertex Phamaceutical shares spiked on preliminary numbers showing that its new hepatitis C drug is outpacing Merck's by almost three to one. That's during one week of sales: The week of June 17, to be exact, when Vertex's Incivek was prescribed 460 times, compared with 160 scrips for Merck's Victrelis.

The IMS Health numbers, first reported by The Street, are just a snapshot from very early on in the launch of both drugs. But they bear out expectations from many analysts, who figured that some favorable study data would give Incivek the edge on sales. Some had predicted that Incivek would capture 75 percent of the new hep C business, and so far that's just what it has done.

Will the pattern continue? That's the multimillion-dollar question, for both companies and for investors. We'll get more information when second-quarter earnings come out next month. In the meantime, Vertex and Merck are relying on disease-awareness campaigns to bring more patients into the treatment pool and on doc-detailing to influence prescibers.

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