J&J teams with Glaxo's ViiV on an HIV combo treatment

Courtesy of ViiV Healthcare

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has signed a deal with ViiV Healthcare, the HIV-focused venture majority-owned by GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), to spin their two antivirals into a single tablet, potentially sparing patients from some harsh side effects associated with current therapies and challenging Gilead Sciences' ($GILD) dominance in the field.

The plan is to study a combination of J&J's rilpivirine, which prevents HIV from replicating itself in cells, and ViiV's dolutegravir, which blocks an enzyme that allows the virus to crack its host's DNA. The two therapies are FDA approved and sold as Edurant and Tivicay, respectively, but a one-pill combo could improve the lives of virologically suppressed HIV patients, the companies said.

The two plan to get started on formulation and clinical work in the coming months, and they plan further studies to develop a pediatric version of the combo.

Standard-of-care HIV therapy usually involves three or more antiviral treatments, including nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), an older generation of treatments that carry serious toxicity risks. J&J's rilpivirine, a non-NRTI, boasts the same replication-blocking ability while sparing patients the side effects, the company said. Adding in dolutegravir, an integrase inhibitor, could give HIV patients the chance to simplify their treatment and cut back on adverse events, according to the partner companies.

John Pottage

"New options that advance current therapies are increasingly important as patients and clinicians consider HIV care over the long term," ViiV CMO Dr. John Pottage said in a statement.

If the two succeed, they'll challenge Gilead's Atripla, which combines the two NRTIs emtricitabine and tenofovir with the non-NRTI efavirenz. That treatment pulled in $3.6 billion last year for the Big Biotech despite its NRTI-related risks of organ damage. ViiV and J&J's drug would also compete against the recently approved three-in-one Complera, which combines rilpivirine with Gilead's emtricitabine and tenofovir and brought in $809 million for the company in 2013.

The collaboration is ViiV's first with an external company since its foundation by Glaxo and Pfizer in 2009, the company said.

- read the statement