CDC delivers gift to hep C drugmakers

The recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that the 70 million U.S. baby boomers all be tested for hepatitis C is a big gift for the newest hep C treatments, both existing and in development.

More tests mean more diagnosed cases and more need for new drugs to treat the liver-killing condition. This will significantly expedite the process of moving people to treatment, which is the idea. More than 2 million U.S. baby boomers have hepatitis C, which is 75% of confirmed cases, and baby boomers are 5 times more likely to be infected, the CDC said in a press release.

Until recently, the standard treatment has been a combo of antiviral drug ribavirin along with immune-boosting protein interferon. But interferon treatments cause flu-like symptoms and fatigue as side effects. When protease inhibitors Victrelis from Merck ($MRK) and Incivek by Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), were added to the treatment, they were found to cure more patients faster and with fewer side effects, Bloomberg reports. Additionally, there is a new class of drugs being developed that work in a new way and do not require interferon treatments. It is one of the brightest spots in biotech R&D.

"With increasingly effective treatments now available, we can prevent tens of thousands of deaths from hepatitis C," Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, CDC director, said in the release.

- get the Bloomberg story
- here's more from Bloomberg
- read the WSJ's take
- here's the CDC release