Company news: Teva, Merck and BMS
Merck's pursuit of an interferon-free treatment for hepatitis C is entering Phase II. The company announced Friday that it is setting up two clinical trials which will pin down the impact of two similar approaches. The first test will be a 12-week trial of a cocktail that includes protease inhibitor MK-5172, the oral NS5A inhibitor MK-8742 and ribavirin. The second will consist of 12- and 24- week regimens that mix MK-5172 and ribavirin. Both target patients who have not undergone previous treatments for chronic hepatitis C. The contagious infection can be either an “acute” form that may be a short-term infection that can morph into a chronic infection, or it can be a chronic infection. The disease can cause liver problems as well as liver cancer, and the Centers for Disease control says 75% to 85% of acute infections become chronic cases. The latest CDC statistics estimate that about 3.2 million people have chronic hep C in the US, but CDC notes that the number may be low because many people do not know they are infected. All-oral regimens are being pursued by several companies, including Vertex, which announced parallel testing agreements last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb which shut down a clinical trial this summer after a patient died, and Abbott.
A state notice announcing impending layoffs caught Pharmalot's attention. The site reports that BMS is laying off 479 sales reps as part of the fallout of transferring Abilify marketing responsibilities to Otsuka. The drugmaker told Pharmalot the move will free the company to focus on therapeutic areas including oncology, hepatitis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The layoffs come soon after layoffs at other firms, including the 300 in Pfizer's Canada operations and 130 connected to Janssen's failed Alzheimer's medication.