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When it comes to virus inhibition, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) has been getting around. Last week, the health-care giant signed a partnership with Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD ) to combine their HIV drugs. And yesterday, Johnson & Johnson announced it was hooking up with a different partner, Pharmasset (Nasdaq: VRUS ) , to create a hepatitis C drug combo.
The duo plan to run a phase 2 trial combining the companies' experimental drug candidates: PSI-7977 from Pharmasset and TMC435 from Johnson & Johnson. They'll start in patients that have already failed a round of treatment, but if the drugs show success, the companies will surely move into treatment-naive patients.
The press release didn't mention any financial details. Maybe they're waiting to see if they're compatible before putting a name on their relationship.
Like the HIV market, the future of hepatitis C treatment is a cocktail that's hopefully capable of curing everyone. Incivek and Victrelis from Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VRTX ) and Merck (NYSE: MRK ) , respectively, are combined with older medications to help boost the cure rate from around half of the treated patients to as much as 79%.
But that still leaves room for improvement. And the older medications -- Merck's PegIntron and Roche's Pegasys -- have to be injected and have unpleasant side effects. Going to an all-oral regimen is the ultimate goal.
Hepatitis C drugmakers with limited compounds are scrambling to partner up to avoid being left behind. Pharmasset has a similar deal combining PSI-7977 with a drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY ) . Merck and Roche have also hooked up to test their drug candidates.
Gilead has six hepatitis C compounds in clinical trials that it can mix or match to find the right combo on its own, which might explain why Johnson & Johnson didn't hit up its HIV partner for another go around in hepatitis C.
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