Merck Becomes Latest to Drop HCV Development Programs

Work on MK-3682B and MK-3682C discontinued

Merck has become the latest pharmaceutical company to abandon development of potential new treatments for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in an increasingly crowded market.

Merck elected to discontinue the development of the investigational combination regimens MK-3682B (grazoprevir/ruzasvir/ uprifosbuvir) and MK-3682C (ruzasvir/uprifosbuvir) for the treatment of chronic HCV infection. Merck made the decision based on a review of available phase 2 efficacy data. It took into consideration the evolving marketplace and growing number of treatment options available for patients with chronic HCV infection, including Merck’s own elbasvir/grazoprevir (Zepatier).

“Remarkable progress has been made in the fight against hepatitis C infection, and Merck is enormously proud of the role we have had in that fight over the past 30 years,” said Dr. Eliav Barr, Senior Vice President, Global Clinical Development, Infectious Diseases and Vaccines, Merck Research Laboratories. “We will continue to study Zepatier to understand even more about its role in treating chronic hepatitis C infection and will continue to work with others to help bring Zepatier to appropriate patients with chronic hepatitis C genotype 1 or 4 infection, the genotypes which make up the majority of patients with chronic hepatitis C infection.”

Less than three weeks earlier, Janssen Sciences Ireland UC said it would discontinue further development of the investigational HCV treatment regimen JNJ-4178, a combination of three direct acting antivirals—AL-335, odalasvir, and simeprevir. Ongoing phase 2 studies with JNJ-4178 will be completed as planned, but there will be no additional development thereafter. Janssen said its announcement—which, like Merck, it called a “strategic decision”—was made “in light of the increasing availability of a number of highly effective therapies addressing the medical need in hepatitis C.” Janssen expects to focus its hepatitis research on chronic hepatitis B, where a high unmet medical need still exists.

Sources: Merck; September 29, 2017; Janssen; September 11, 2017.