Vertex Pharmaceuticals has released promising Phase III data for its experimental hepatitis C drug telaprevir, positioning the drug candidate for potential blockbuster status. The New York Times reports that about 75 percent of patients taking telaprevir in combination with existing hepatitis C drugs were essentially cured of the virus, compared to 44 percent on standard therapy alone. Patients in the study took telaprevir for 12 weeks, followed by the standard therapy for another 12 weeks. Sales of telaprevir could reach $3 billion per year by 2015, according to an analyst mentioned in the Times article. The company plans to file for FDA approval in the second half of 2010. The announcement from Vertex comes only days after Anadys Pharmaceuticals announced that its hepatitis C drug candidate, ANA598, met key goals in a midstage trial. Business Week reports that 75 percent of patients taking a twice-daily dose of ANA598 had undetectable levels of the virus after 12 weeks. Approximately 2.7 to 3.9 million people in the U.S. suffer from hepatitis C, a viral disease that can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. Hepatitis C is a popular field at the moment, the Times reports. Many companies, from small to large, are developing hepatitis C drugs to reach what is perceived as an underserved market. Research firm Global Data estimates that the global market for hepatitis C drugs will grow at 9.8% to reach $8.5 million by 2016. Pharmaceutical giant Merck expects to release late-stage data on its hepatitis C drug, boceprevir, later this year. We reported in December that a hepatitis C drug candidate from Santaris Pharma dramatically reduced virus levels in animal subjects, with no toxic side effects. In March, Novelos Therapeutics announced that they had enrolled the first patient in a Phase II trial of its hepatitis C drug. Other companies developing hepatitis C drugs include Idenix Pharmaceuticals and Pharmasset.