There's a flurry of selling going on this morning in shares of the biopharma Vertex Pharmaceuticals . Overnight the embargo lifted on the long awaited results of the company's mid-stage test on a new type of Hepatitis C drug. Two studies show that six months out 60% and 65% of patients had no detectable virus in their blood.
That beats the treatments currently available which make a lot of patients feel like they have the flu and don't work in about half of them.
Hepatitis C doesn't get a lot of mainstream news media coverage. But it is a huge, burgeoning drug market. Geoffrey Porges at Bernstein forecasts that the Hep C drug market will grow from about $2.5 billion this year to $11 billion in 2012. That's a tremendous amount of potential growth in a short amount of time.
So, as you might guess, a whole bunch of biotech and big pharmas are racing to develop drugs for it. An estimated four million people are infected in the U.S., but that pales in comparison to the 170 million patients worldwide.
While the efficacy seen in the Vertex studies is unprecedented, there were side effects. As many as 18% of people dropped out of one of the clinical trials. The most common problem was a rash. You can hear what Vertex CEO Joshua Boger had to say about that and the move in his stock in this interview I did with him this morning on "Squawk on the Street". Just before, during and after his appearance the stock trimmed about half of its losses in early trading.