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100% Late to the Party

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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Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Abbott Laboratories and Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson and Gilead Sciences and creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 1:18 PM, avandaly wrote:

    Anything can and will happen along the way to an all oral Hep C cure. Achillion may appear 100% late, but no one so far has show any all oral cure. Your article has some truth, but it's fear mongering, as far as I'm concerned.

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