Bristol-Myers rebounds on hep C front with new Merck partnership

Like most of its new drug programs in recent years, Merck's ($MRK) work on new hepatitis C drugs has never quite paid off as hoped. Now it's taken its lead clinical-stage program for MK-5172 and tied up with Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) to test a combo approach with daclatasvir.

The oral NS3/4A protease inhibitor is intended to help Merck stay active in hepatitis C as developers turn to a new generation of therapies that does away with interferon, which often spurs some serious side effects for patients. And BMS, which had to bury 094 after it proved toxic to patients, is looking to keep its own hopes alive with daclatasvir, an NS5A replication complex inhibitor.

Gilead ($GILD) is the recognized R&D leader in the field, but a host of major players like AbbVie ($ABBV) and Merck are hustling through clinical programs with various cocktails that can control the virus. And Bristol Myers Squibb ($BMY), despite its recent catastrophe with 094, has been determined to play catch-up--if it can. Just days ago the biotech announced a pact with Vertex ($VRTX) pairing its next-gen hep C drug with daclatasvir.

"In HCV, agreements like this that combine novel investigational candidates are important to evaluate the potential of novel oral regimens early in the development cycle," said Dr. Eliav Barr, vice president of infectious diseases at Merck Research Laboratories. "We are pleased to collaborate with Bristol-Myers Squibb to advance this potential all-oral combination."

- here's the release
- read the story from Dow Jones

Special Report: Hep C pill race report 2012: Gilead, others rush toward pharma gold

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