Merck eyes new hepatitis C drug deals as bidding war heats up

Don't look for the deal numbers to start cooling anytime soon in the hot hepatitis C field. Merck ($MRK) dealmaker Roger Pomerantz stepped aside at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference to tell Bloomberg the Big Pharma company is ready to wheel and deal on any new technology it deems necessary to be a leader in the field.

"Our goal is to be a leader in hepatitis C, and we will do what it takes to get there," Pomerantz said in an interview at the conference. "We would consider small deals to large deals, whatever is necessary to lead in hepatitis."

Two multibillion-dollar deals for Pharmasset ($VRUS) and Inhibitex ($INHX) have set the stage for some crowded auctions of new technologies in the year ahead. And with a dwindling number of players to choose from, it looks as if premiums will be the order of the day. For Merck, which recently gained an approval for Victrelis, much of its future in hepatitis C is being built around MK-5172, now in mid-stage testing.

Victrelis has lagged behind Vertex's ($VRTX) game-changing hep C drug Incivek. But Merck has plenty of capital to play catch-up. One of the remaining players angling for a buyout is Achillion, and its CEO has been adding fuel to the fire by projecting rapid growth in the market, with treatments fetching $20 billion by the end of this decade. And those kinds of numbers are making this a seller's market in 2012.

- here's the story from Bloomberg