Business

Vertex to stop selling hepatitis C drug Incivek

Incivek

Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Incivek

In a move that shows how fast things can change in the biotechnology industry, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. has told doctors it will discontinue sales of Incivek, the hepatitis C treatment that was the first drug developed by the Boston company.

Incivek was approved by US and European regulators in 2011 and enjoyed what, at the time, was one of the fastest drug launches ever. More than 100,000 people globally have taken it over the past three years. But new and better treatments for hepatitis C — especially the hugely successful pill Sovaldi — have virtually wiped out sales of Incivek.

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Vertex’s decision to stop selling Incivek in the United States as of Oct. 16 was conveyed Monday in a letter to health care providers written by Charles Johnson, the company’s vice president of global medical affairs.

“This decision has been taken in view of available alternative treatments and the diminishing market demand for Incivek,” Johnson wrote.

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Vertex spokesman Zach Barber said patients who have started taking Incivek to fight the liver-damaging hepatitis C virus will be able to finish their treatments.

“We just wanted to give physicians some time to prepare and make sure they understood this is coming,” he said.

Shares of Vertex fell 79 cents to $85.41, a decline of 0.9 percent on the Nasdaq stock exchange Tuesday.

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The move was the latest in a series of steps Vertex has taken over the past year to back away from the hepatitis C market and refocus the company’s efforts on treatments for cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.

In October, Vertex said it would cut about 370 jobs globally, including 175 in Massachusetts, because sales of Incivek were declining. The drop was attributed to patients holding off on treatment in anticipation of new oral hepatitis C drugs, including Sovaldi — sold by rival Gilead Sciences — which was approved for sale in the United States in December.

Vertex in November sold its royalty rights to Incivek back to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, with which it had previously licensed the rights to sell the medicine overseas. Then, in May, Vertex said it would halt research and development spending on hepatitis C.

“While we are discontinuing Incivek, it was an important medicine to establish the foundation for us as a company,” Barber said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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