Sept 29 (Reuters) - U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co said on Friday it would discontinue developing an experimental drug combination for chronic hepatitis C, as competition rises and patient population shrinks.
The decision was made after reviewing mid-stage trial data of the treatments, said the company, which currently sells hepatitis C drug Zepatier.
Merck is the latest drugmaker to move away from the hepatitis C market.
Earlier this month, Janssen Sciences Ireland UC, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, said it would discontinue further development of its hepatitis C research.
Hepatitis C drugmakers have been struggling with slowing sales growth.
Market leader Gilead Sciences has seen total sales of its hepatitis C drugs - Sovaldi, Harvoni and Epclusa - sharply drop to $2.9 billion in the second quarter ended June 30 from $4 billion a year earlier.
Hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to diminished organ function or its failure.
An estimated 2.7 million to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)