Jeff Jacoby

Sales of Incivek, the promising pill introduced by Vertex Pharmaceuticals for treating hepatitis C, are down — way down. The Cambridge biotech company sold just $85.6 million worth of its trailblazing drug in the most recent quarter, a precipitous plunge from the same quarter last year, when sales surpassed more than $250 million.

With its earnings, share price, and near-term prospects falling, Vertex announced last week that it was laying off 370 employees, or roughly one-sixth of its workforce. Approximately half of those layoffs will be in Massachusetts. That means that Vertex has failed to create the 500 net new jobs through 2015 that it promised in order to qualify for up to $72 million in state and local subsidies. So far the company has received $4.4 million in tax incentives from the state; to its credit, it has said it will pay the money back without waiting to see if the state enforces a clawback provision.

Vertex was supposed to be a shining vindication of Governor Deval Patrick's billion-dollar biotech gamble. By using public funds to make large wagers on private companies, Patrick said, Beacon Hill could entice firms like Vertex to flourish in Massachusetts, generating 250,000 jobs in the life sciences industry over a decade. Patrick seemed to have little doubt that state officials had a knack for picking winners; he encouraged the Legislature to bet big "for the sake of our future — and because you hate to lose as much as I do."

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for