Wanted: Premier hepatitis C drug developer to partner with Vertex

Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden

Vertex ($VRTX) has forecast about $1.25 billion in sales for Incivek this year. But with hepatitis C patients already starting to defer therapy as they wait for new and far better drugs to come, the biotech is looking for a marquee-level partner or two to collaborate with on a next-gen cocktail that can keep the money flowing.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden says that the company is in talks with prospective partners for VX-135, otherwise known as ALS-2200, one of two experimental therapies picked up in its pact with Alios. Vertex already killed off another Alios prospect after concluding that it failed to pack enough punch on the efficacy scale. Now it's studying combos of VX-135 with Incivek and the experimental in-house therapy VX-222. Once the data are in next year, Vertex can go into a pivotal study. 

"We want to use the assets we have and explore them both with our own assets together and potentially with other companies' assets in collaboration to come up with the best regimens," Leiden told the news service. "And we want to do it quickly."

Leiden wasn't ready to reveal just who Vertex is talking to, but Wells Fargo Securities analyst Brian Abrahams was willing to speculate to Bloomberg that J&J ($JNJ) and Achillion ($ACHN) might like to tie up with Vertex.

The Boston-based biotech has been scrambling to position itself in the frenzied race to a new and better "cure" for hepatitis C than Incivek. Gilead ($GILD), Abbott ($ABT), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Idenix ($IDIX) and others have been in this race as well. But with a number of therapeutic components needed to quell the virus, collaborations have been a key theme. Where Vertex ends up in this competition will have a lot to do with the partners it signs up with.

The emphasis is on speed.

- here's the article from Bloomberg