Johnson & Johnson pulls plug on Medivir-Achillion hep C cocktail to focus on hep B

Citing a crowded market of innovative meds, Janssen has canned work on its hep C cocktail program with partners Medivir and Achillion.

The pair were working on the hepatitis C treatment regimen known as JNJ-4178, a combo of three direct acting antivirals: AL-335, Achillion’s odalasvir and the Janssen-Medivir med Olysio (simeprevir).

The Big Pharma said that the ongoing phase 2 tests with JNJ-4178 will be completed as planned, “but there will be no additional development thereafter.”

Why? The same reason others have dropped out of the development and sales race: There are too many good treatments and increasingly, those without the need for injection, which has seen domination from Gilead’s curative meds Sovaldi and Harvoni.

These meds, as well as others from Big Pharmas, can effectively cure the vast majority of patients with hep C in a few months; Gilead itself has been a victim of its own success, seeing tens of billions of dollars for its therapies after launch, but this started to quickly dwindle after patients no longer needed them.

As Janssen put it: “This decision was made in light of the increasing availability of a number of highly effective therapies addressing the medical need in hepatitis C.”

Janssen’s future R&D focus on anti-virals will center around hepatitis B, it said, as it looks for a potential cure to a disease that affects around 250 million people worldwide.

Achillion will be hit hard by the decision; the biotech was working with Janssen on the odalasvir side for a potential $1 billion biobucks deal, before this weekend’s termination. “We are disappointed by Janssen’s decision to discontinue HCV development given the positive data presented in phase 2a with JNJ-41781, demonstrating a 100% cure rate after only six-weeks of therapy,” said Milind Deshpande, Ph.D., who heads up Achillion.

“While we believe that patients worldwide would benefit from convenient, short-duration therapies like JNJ-4178, we remain fully focused on advancing our factor D portfolio of complement alternative pathway inhibitors in areas where patient needs are greatest, and using our strong balance sheet of almost $370 million in cash and cash equivalents at June 30, 2017 to do so.”

Medivir said in a separate statement that the decision to cut work on JNJ-4178 "does not affect the ongoing partnership with Janssen on Olysio, or the existing licensing agreement with Janssen in which simeprevir is included. Medivir continues to be entitled to royalties on sales of single agent simeprevir globally.”

“Although Janssen’s decision not to progress this promising treatment further is unfortunate, Medivir's focus does not change,” explained Christine Lind, CEO at Medivir. “We continue to develop our proprietary pipeline in oncology and look forward to completing the ongoing phase 2a studies in osteoarthritis.”