Vertex to field small, specialized sales force on Incivek

With all eyes on its bid to out-market Merck's new hepatitis C drug Victrelis, Vertex Pharmaceuticals says its targeted sales force is up to the job. In an interview with Dow Jones, Vertex chief Matthew Emmens says the company will be fielding a small cadre of reps to target physicians likely to adopt its newly approved Incivek.

"It is a very focused market," Emmens told the news service, "and we have a highly specialized sales force. You only need 100 or so representatives to cover the doctors." He figures that this group could see the top 50 percent of prescribers up to 10 times a year.

A small group, yes, but Emmens says it's an experienced group of reps, all hired specifically to market Incivek. The company started building a marketing organization two years ago and began hiring reps a year ago. "We designed a sales force around our medicine from scratch," Emmens told Dow Jones.

Soon, Vertex will back up its doctor-detailing operation with patient awareness campaigns. The idea is to persuade more people to get tested for hepatitis C, to identify potential new patients for Incivek. The company estimates up to one million U.S. patients diagnosed with hep C, and another two million to three million infected but undiagnosed. Vertex and other hep C drugmakers--including Merck and Roche, which will be helping to market Victrelis--are hoping the CDC will decide to recommend testing for everyone, rather than just high-risk people.

There's certainly enthusiasm for the drug: Anticipating its approval, some 100,000 hep C patients have been waiting to start therapy until Incivek won FDA approval, Emmens said. The Wall Street Journal Health Blog reports that the first prescriptions came in within an hour of the agency's approval announcement.

- get the story from Dow Jones
- see the WSJ Health Blog post