J&J's success with Hep C partners might hit a snag

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is one of the best in the business at tapping outside developers for new drugs, but the Big Pharma's success on this front in the hepatitis C arena appears have brought with it some controversy.

Even though its Hep C drug is still in late-stage development, Swedish biotech Medivir isn't comfortable with the fact that its partner J&J is promoting Vertex Pharmaceuticals' ($VRTX) hot drug against the liver disease, Incivek, Medivir CEO Ron Long told Bloomberg. And Long wants J&J to resolve the potential conflicts of having one company promote two different drugs for the same disease to the same doctors.

"They have to resolve that issue," Long said, as quoted by Bloomberg. "You can't use best efforts if you are prioritizing one drug over the other. I think their position is unsustainable and I've told them so."

Medivir's issues with J&J might become more common with so many biotechs looking to Big Pharma to market their drugs, and large drug companies doing the smart thing and spreading their bets in key therapeutic areas. As we all know, history tells us that most of the drug programs won't reach the market as they fail at some point in the development process. On the other hand, J&J saw its partner Vertex win FDA approval of Incivek with flying colors in May, and Medivir's TMC435 showed that it might be able to provide even better cure rates than Incivek, according to a mid-stage trial.

Still, Medivir, whose 435 wouldn't likely hit the market until 2013, still has to prove that its drug can have that kind of success in late-stage trials. J&J might want to see whether its Swedish partner's drug can pass the big test in the clinic before it starts to divide its kingdom. But with so much riding on the success of 435, it's no surprise to see the CEO voicing some concern over the potential conflict. 

- check out the Bloomberg story