INSIGHT-After hep C cure, companies target next big liver disease market
By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK Nov 9 (Reuters) - Now that new medicines promise to cure millions of hepatitis C patients in coming years, drugmakers including Gilead Sciences Inc are turning their attention to other liver diseases, with a potential market that could rival the success of statins, which generated more than $30 billion a year in sales at their peak.
Several companies are working on treatments for hepatitis B, which can be controlled but not yet cured, and for fatty liver conditions caused by rising obesity, which without treatment could affect half of all Americans by 2030, according to the American Liver Foundation (ALF). Some of the drugs will address advanced fibrosis and cirrhosis, which are the scarring that virtually all liver diseases cause without effective treatments. Each of these drugs, once approved, could reach annual sales of as much as $10 billion, industry analysts said.
Most of the treatments are now in early Phase I or Phase II clinical trials, with more informative interim data on several expected over the course of the next year.
Gilead, which was first to market with its hepatitis C cure Sovaldi late last year and has been racking up about $3 billion in sales each quarter, is a solid bet to be among the leaders in the next wave of liver therapies, experts said.
"The Gilead program is encouraging," said Dr. Naga Chalasani, director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis, who is participating in clinical trials of promising drugs from Gilead and others.
Drugmakers are working to address the fatty liver disease known as NASH, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Without treatment, NASH can progress to liver-destroying cirrhosis and potentially cancer.
ALF estimates that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including NASH, affects up to 30 percent of people in the United States. It can be caused by bad diets and alcohol abuse, and has also been tied to diabetes.
"We have no treatment for that condition other than tell a patient they need to lose weight," said Dr. Mauricio Lisker-Melman, director of the hepatology program at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Continued...