Sometimes you have to make enemies to make new friends. Such is the case for Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) , which released data today testing its HIV drug, Kaletra, with Merck's (NYSE: MRK ) Isentress compared with Kaletra plus Gilead Sciences' (Nasdaq: GILD ) Truvada.
The data, which is only from the first half of a 96-week study, showed that the two combinations are equal in their ability to keep the HIV virus at bay in recently diagnosed patients. Considering that Isentress is a relatively new compound, having been approved less than three years ago, this is clearly a win for Merck. Grabbing some of the $2.5 billion in sales that Truvada managed last year sure would be nice; the allure of a potential revenue gain is the reason Merck supplied the Isentress to the study.
Running the study makes it look like Abbott loves Merck more than Gilead, but I think Abbott would be just as happy combining Kaletra with HIV drugs made by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) , GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK ) , or Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) . There are multiple combination options for newly diagnosed HIV patients, and Abbott wants to make sure Kaletra is in the mix no matter what it pairs with. Truvada got the short straw because it was already known that the Kaletra-Truvada combination worked, and the trial had to compare the new combination to a currently prescribed treatment (it's not ethical to run clinical trials on HIV patients using placebo).
Abbott will consider making a single pill combining Kaletra and Isentress once the full study is complete. Combination products such as Gilead and Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE: BMY ) Atripla are preferred by doctors and their patients because they simplify the drug-taking process.
Gilead won't be all that excited about the news, but considering it's developing a four-drug quad pill of its own, I doubt there's any love lost between it and Abbott.
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