When trying to eradicate a virus, it doesn't get any better than doing it in 100% of the patients.
Achillion Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ACHN ) announced yesterday that its hepatitis C treatment sovaprevir eradicated the virus in all the patients treated at the highest dose according to the protocol.
That sounds wonderful -- and it is -- but there are a few caveats. Aren't there always?
- We're only talking about 13 patients.
- And those 13 have been cleared of virus for only four weeks after stopping treatment. There's potential to rebound, so the true cure rate might go down a little.
- An additional patient was treated and had undetectable viral levels at the end of treatment but wasn't tested four weeks after treatment ended.
- The treatment required sovaprevir to be taken with pegylated interferon and ribavirin for 12 weeks and then pegylated interferon and ribavirin alone for another 12 weeks.
That last one is a big one. The future of hepatitis C treatment doesn't involve pegylated interferon because it has to be injected and has some nasty side effects.
For now, testing the drug in combination with pegylated interferon to establish efficacy is a fine plan, but Achillion needs to find another oral drug or two to combine sovaprevir with.
The company has three other hepatitis C drugs, so in theory it could develop an all-oral combination in-house. But those drugs are still in phase 1, and waiting for them to catch up would put Achillion even further behind Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD ) and Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) , which already have multiple drugs ready to go into phase 3.
Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY ) might be looking for a partner after its hepatitis C drugs ran into safety issues, but I doubt Bristol would be interested in sovaprevir. Achillion's lead drug is in the same class as Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ ) TMC435, which is already teamed up with Bristol.
Unfortunately, Achillion looks like it's 100% late to the party and will be eating whatever crumbs are left.
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