Whose hep C blockbuster will be biggest?

Get ready for a slugfest between Merck and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. As both companies prepare for an intense marketing fight between their new hepatitis C drugs, analysts are placing their bets. Both new meds will be blockbusters, but whose blockbuster will be the biggest? "It will be a battle," CLSA's David Maris says, according to Forbes.

Merck and Vertex both won recommendations from an FDA advisory panel for their oral hepatitis C meds, which are expected to revolutionize treatment of the disease. Merck has made it to the finish line first, however. The agency announced its approval of Victrelis on Friday, and the company expects to start shipping this week. Treatment will cost $1,100 per week, or $26,400 to $48,400 per patient, depending upon how many weeks are necessary to banish the virus.

But Vertex has the edge when it comes to trial data, experts say. Both drugs sped up treatment when added to existing meds, which can require up to a year to fully work. But the cure rate for Vertex's drug, Incivek, was 79 percent versus 66 percent for Victrelis, according to Reuters. Furthermore, participants in the Vertex trial were sicker than those in the Merck study, Forbes notes.

But Incivek and Vertex will be up against Merck's mighty marketing muscle, Morningstar analyst Damien Conover told Reuters, which could blunt the effect of that data. "I think people are probably underestimating the marketing power of Merck versus Vertex," Conover said. "[T]he experience of Merck's marketing machine, especially in hep C, is going to be very helpful for the product. With telaprevir's approval expected later this month, we'll soon discover whether he's right.

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