Human Genome Sciences (NASDAQ:HGSI) investors got good news Tuesday as the drugmaker took a quicker-than-expected step in its journey to get its lead drug, hepatitis C treatment Albuferon, on the path to FDA approval.  

Thanks to a faster rate of patient sign-up, Human Genome completed enrollment of the key Albuferon phase 3 study ahead of its previous guidance projecting the "end of 2007." The study will look at genotype 1 hepatitis C patients, the most common type in North America. Investors should mark their calendars, as results of the study are now expected in the spring of 2009, and a marketing application with the FDA would follow in the fall of that year if the study is a success.

Human Genome and partner Novartis (NYSE:NVS) have another phase 3 study of Albuferon in genotypes 2 and 3 patients under way. That study isn't expected to complete enrollment until the end of 2007.

The hepatitis C experimental treatment landscape is undergoing more changes now than ever before, with numerous new molecular entities such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ:VRTX) Telaprevir in pivotal stage testing, and others, like Idenix Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ:IDIX) compound, falling out of the race.

It's important that Human Genome doesn't fall behind schedule in pushing Albuferon through the clinical trial and regulatory hurdles if it wants to keep up with potential competitors. While I'm not sold on the benefits of Albuferon, at least the clock now starts ticking on when the results of its most important study will be released.

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Fool contributor Brian Lawler does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has an FDA-approved disclosure policy.