AbbVie Hepatitis C Drug Cures 97% in Transplant Patients Study

AbbVie Inc.’s hepatitis C treatment cured 97 percent of patients who had received a liver transplant, a study showed today, potentially adding a valuable option for a group that’s highly vulnerable to the disease.

In a mid-stage study of 34 patients, 33 were cured of the virus after 24 weeks of treatment with AbbVie’s experimental cocktail of ombitasvir, ritonavir, dasabuvir, ABT-450, and ribavirin, an antiviral drug used to supplement hepatitis C treatments. The study was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Liver transplant patients are particularly in need of new hepatitis C treatments with better cure rates and fewer side effects. Not only is the infection a major cause of organ failure and the need for a new liver, but after patients get a donated organ their infection almost always reappears and can cause damage even faster, according to the researchers. More than 40 percent of the people on the U.S. liver transplant waiting list have hepatitis C.

The drugs are crucial for AbbVie as well. Analysts have projected the company’s hepatitis C sales to be at least $2 billion next year if the drug is approved. After a $52 billion deal to buy Shire Plc collapsed last month, approval of the drugs would help the company reduce its dependence on Humira, the rheumatoid arthritis injection that makes up more than half of its sales.

“We believe Hep-C is the most important driver for AbbVie in 2015,” wrote Alex Arfaei, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, in a Nov. 7 note to clients. He estimates AbbVie’s 2015 hepatitis C revenue at $2.1 billion. The company has reported $19.6 billion in total sales over the past four quarters.

Race to Market

AbbVie also presented data today showing cure rates as high as 100 percent in patients with genotype 4, a prevalent form of the virus in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, and cure rates over 90 percent for patients who were also infected with HIV. The data were released at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases conference in Boston.

The North Chicago, Illinois-based drugmaker expects its first hepatitis C treatment to be approved by U.S. regulators by the end of the year, and hopes to compete with Gilead Sciences Inc., which already has two drugs approved, and Merck & Co., which has yet to reach the market.

Gilead’s drug has been tested in transplant patients as well, and showed cure rates as high as 98 percent after 24 weeks of treatment, according to data presented during the meeting.

Convenience Factor

Analysts have said AbbVie’s regimen, which involves multiple pills, some taken twice a day, may deter patients who find it less convenient than Gilead’s one-pill, once-daily treatment Harvoni.

AbbVie isn’t concerned, said Barry Bernstein, vice president of infectious disease development, in an interview. “This is a highly motivated patient population,” he said. “With relatively short course therapies, there is limited, if any, impact.”

AbbVie and other drugmakers’ eventual goal is to develop a medicine that can be used by patients with any of the the six known strains of the disease, Bernstein said. He said he hopes to see such a medicine by AbbVie on the market “in 2018 or sooner.”

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