Inhibitex skyrockets on promising oral Hep C drug program

The investor frenzy over oral hepatitis C drugs is raging this morning. Inhibitex ($INHX), a small Georgia-based developer, has doubled in value today with its top-line data from a mid-stage trial of its oral nucleotide polymerase inhibitor INX-189, which offers another promising treatment of the liver-damaging virus that doesn't require injections of interferon.

The company's data are sure to be a hot topic of discussion at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases meeting in San Francisco. The firm today provided data from a Phase II trial of its INX-189 that tests the treatment as a standalone drug and in combination with the antiviral ribavirin. In the first group that took INX-189 over 7 days, there was "potent and dose-dependent antiviral activity with a median HCV RNA reduction from baseline of -4.25 log10 IU/mL. Further, 200 mg INX-189 was generally well tolerated, and there were no serious adverse events (SAE) or dose dependent adverse events (AE) observed," the company said. Those data are comparable to what Pharmasset ($VRUS) showed from an earlier study of its similar oral drug PSI-7977, which is in late-stage development, TheStreet reports.

Shares of Inhibitex have skyrocketed this morning and were up 100% as of 9:52 am ET, as the company appears to have caught a wave of investor interest in oral Hep C cocktails that Pharmasset has been riding for some time.

Inhibitex said it started the mid-stage study back in September after evidence from a Phase Ib trial earlier this year showed that antiviral activity improved in groups that took higher doses of INX-189, providing some early signs of effectiveness. The company plans a number of studies to evaluate the drug alone and in combination with other antiviral treatments.

Investors have been swooning over all-oral treatments against the chronic disease. There was a buying frenzy early this week for shares of Pharmasset on news the developer was embarking on a robust slate of Phase III trials, taking a lead among others such as Vertex ($VRTX) and Abbott Labs ($ABT) that are in the hunt for interferon-free hep C drug cocktails. Interferon, which is a standard component of existing hep C treatments, is associated with numerous nasty side effects and can make patients feel sicker than the symptoms of the disease.

- here's the company's release
- read TheStreet's coverage