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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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Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences, and Vertex. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. 

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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10/24/2016 4:00 PM
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