NEW YORK (Reuters) - Merck & Co Inc said on Monday that U.S.
regulators had approved its experimental drug Cancidas, the
first member of a new class of medicines meant to battle deadly
fungal diseases that are becoming increasingly common in people
with weakened immune systems.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Cancidas for
treatment of invasive aspergillosis in patients who do not
respond to or cannot tolerate other antifungal therapies,
including amphotericin B and itraconazole.
Analysts have predicted Cancidas could achieve peak annual
sales of perhaps $500 million, respectable revenues but not
quite blockbuster scale for a company like Merck, which has
annual revenues of over $40 billion. Shares of Merck edged up
41 cents to $82.66 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Aspergillosis is a common fungus that poses little threat to
the average person. But in people with weakened immune systems,
it can infect the lungs and spread throughout the body to
damage the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes -- a condition called
"Despite current treatments, the mortality rates in patients
with invasive aspergillosis range from 50 to over 90 percent,"
the company said in a statement.
It is especially dangerous to cancer patients, organ and bone
marrow transplant recipients, and patients with HIV/AIDS, Merck
said, adding that Cancidas demonstrated effectiveness among
patients who had previously failed to benefit from other
therapies. Cancidas, which is given intravenously, is the first
member of the new class of antifungals called echinocandins or
glucan synthesis inhibitors. They block synthesis of a protein,
D-glucan, that is an important component of the fungal cell
wall but that is not found in human cells.