And then there were three.
Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. Inc. have both recently halted development of drugs to treat hepatitis C (HCV), with no plans to work on any others. This capitulation leaves the market largely split between Gilead Sciences Inc., AbbVie Inc., and a drug Merck already has on the market.
It’s a glimmer of good news for Gilead, the market leader. But “glimmer” is the key word; the HCV market is still locked in a decline.
This is a smart retreat for Merck and J&J. The HCV market is well past its peak. Both of their new therapies would have been very late; AbbVie and Gilead both had new drugs approved this year. Their best hope likely would have been to compete on price in a market that’s been warring over price for a while.
And the market is continually shrinking — existing medicines have already cured many people. That’s good news for patients but not an especially appealing prospect for drugmakers looking to invest in new treatments.
It’s telling that J&J and Merck both retreated after the FDA approved AbbVie’s new HCV medicine Mavyret in early August. The drug is particularly effective — it works in all genetic subtypes of the disease and can cure many people more quickly than most other drugs. It’s also cheaper than competing therapies. J&J and Merck may have realized they couldn’t keep up with it on price. Insurers will likely use Mavyret’s low cost to wring discounts from competitors.