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A Hep C Love Triangle

By Brian Orelli, PhD - Nov 1, 2012 at 3:49PM

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Vertex pairs up with GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson and Johnson.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX -0.07%) has found not one but two new beaus, although it's keeping the relationships casual.

For a disease like hepatitis C where combinations will be the new norm, getting in bed with as many players as possible is critical. Assuming of course you're not Gilead Sciences (GILD 0.97%) or Abbott Labs (ABT -1.94%), which have all the drugs they need to make a decent combination on their own.

Vertex doesn't. It has VX-135, which looks like it might be a decent nuc, but it needs to combine VX-135 with other drugs to reach the high cure rates Gilead and Abbott have put up.

Enter Johnson & Johnson (JNJ 0.71%) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK 0.31%). In separate deals, Vertex announced that it'll test VX-135 with Johnson & Johnson's simeprevir  and Glaxo's GSK2336805.

Simeprevir is a protease inhibitor that's in the same class as Vertex's already-approved Incivek. Vertex is hedging its bet with this partnership because it's generally assumed that the second-generation protease inhibitors will be better than Incivek and Merck's (MRK 0.62%) Victrelis.

Johnson & Johnson and Vertex will split the cost of the phase 2 trial scheduled to start early next year. Once they see that data, they'll presumably figure out a development plan because the current deal doesn't extend beyond the proof-of-concept study.

The deal with Glaxo has a similar structure. The companies will split the cost of a phase 2 proof-of-concept study combining VX-135 and NS5A inhibitor GSK2336805 with or without ribavirin, a generic drug. That pair is shooting for starting that trial early next year.

Left out in the cold is Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY 0.24%), which also has an NS5A inhibitor called daclatasvir. The drug worked well with Gilead's nuc GS-7977, so it's curious that Vertex went with Glaxo's NS5A inhibitor rather than daclatasvir.

Of course, considering that the deals seem pretty casual, Vertex might be able to partner with Bristol as well.

Love square, anyone?

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Stocks Mentioned

Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
JNJ
$180.71 (0.71%) $1.27
GlaxoSmithKline plc Stock Quote
GlaxoSmithKline plc
GSK
$44.89 (0.31%) $0.14
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated Stock Quote
Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated
VRTX
$268.15 (-0.07%) $0.20
Merck & Co., Inc. Stock Quote
Merck & Co., Inc.
MRK
$94.41 (0.62%) $0.58
Abbott Laboratories Stock Quote
Abbott Laboratories
ABT
$112.80 (-1.94%) $-2.23
Bristol Myers Squibb Company Stock Quote
Bristol Myers Squibb Company
BMY
$76.89 (0.24%) $0.18
Gilead Sciences, Inc. Stock Quote
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
GILD
$64.28 (0.97%) $0.62

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