'Heroes of Chemistry' award to hepatitis C team from Merck

The American Chemical Society will hold its 224th national meeting in Philadelphia starting Sunday and the five-day gathering kickoffs with a dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel to honor "Heroes of Chemistry."

The 2012 honorees include a group of scientists who developed the hepatitis C drug Victrelis, while working at Schering Plough and then Merck after it acquired Schering Plough in 2009.

Merck researchers in North Wales and Kenilworth, N.J., were among the hundreds who worked on the drug, which doctors hoped would be an improvement on a two-drug cocktail that had been used for more than a decade.

The five scientists honored include F. George Njoroge (one of the patent holders who has since moved to Eli Lilly and Company), Srikanth Venkatraman, Stephane Bogen, Frank Bennett and Ashok Arasappan.

Companies nominate a scientist, or teams of them, for the award. According to the ACS website, the award "has recognized chemical scientists whose work in various fields of chemistry and chemical engineering has led to the successful innovation and development of commercial products based on chemistry. The Heroes of Chemistry program highlights the vital role of industrial chemical scientists and their companies in improving human welfare through successful commercial innovations and products. It presents an ideal opportunity to enhance the public image of the chemical and allied industries."

The World Health Organization said in 2011 that the hepatitis C virus affects 130 million to 170 million people worldwide - about four times the number with HIV/AIDS - and kills about 350,000 people a year because of damage to the liver.

In its second-quarter earnings report, Merck said it sold $126 million of Victrelis. (Boceprevir is the chemical name.) It is approved in 43 countries and has launched in 23 of those markets, Merck said.