Pfizer Yields to Rivals in Hep C Drug Race

Xconomy New York — 

As flashy new entries piled into the race to create an injection-free hepatitis C drug about a year ago, Xconomy’s national biotech editor, Luke Timmerman, likened the contest to the Daytona 500 of the pharmaceutical world.

Now Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, has scratched itself from the starting lineup. The New York pharmaceutical giant has shelved its small molecule compound filibuvir, whose other tag was PF-00868554.

Pfizer wasn’t considered a frontrunner in the hotly competitive field, where Foster City, CA-based Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) seemed to emerge with the edge after its presentations at a November meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston. Others making a strong showing at the meeting included Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) of Abbott Park, IL; Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMS); Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, NJ; and Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim.

The prize they’re all vying for is a share of a potential $15 billion market for hepatitis C drugs. Worldwide, there are 180 million people infected with the virus, including four million in the United States, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Current treatments have side effects that can discourage patients from taking them; so new options could prevent dire consequences. A chronic infection of the liver with the hepatitis C virus can lead to two potentially fatal conditions—liver cancer, and the severe liver damage called cirrhosis.

Patients infected with the treacherous hepatitis C virus have already benefited from a first wave of recent treatment improvements over the long-established standard therapy, which consisted of injections of interferon along with tablets of a drug called ribavirin.

In May of 2011, the FDA approved two new products: Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals‘ (NASDAQ: VRTX) drug telaprevir, which it markets as Incivek; and boceprevir, which is marketed as Victrelis by Merck (NYSE:MRK). Both are pills taken … Next Page »

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