AbbVie: We can beat Gilead in blockbuster hep C race

AbbVie ($ABBV) sees a chance to upset Gilead ($GILD) in the race to bring to market the first all-oral treatment for hepatitis C. Among the many drug-development races in pharma, few move as quickly as this contest. As Bloomberg reports, the winner could quickly take in billions of dollars in drug sales as patients jump at the opportunity for relatively rapid cures and reduced side effects.

AbbVie and Gilead are among the companies in late-stage development of oral drugs for the liver-damaging virus, which is now treated with injections of interferon that causes flu-like side effects. Industry watchers are paying close attention to who crosses the finish line first with an FDA-approved oral treatment because of the pent-up demand for such therapies in the U.S.

"We've got a very good shot at being first," Scott Brun, AbbVie's head of development, told investors at a Goldman confab, as quoted by Bloomberg. "It is a very tight race."

Investors have bet up shares for both AbbVie and Gilead in anticipation of blockbuster revenues from their hep C drugs. In their respective Phase II studies, both companies have shown impressive cure rates of 90% or more in patients with the virus after relatively short 8-week treatment regimens, Bloomberg noted. Both companies are in contention to reap large portions of the expected $20 billion market for the drugs.

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) is in the thick of this race as well. The company has said it could be the first to market in Japan while being a major player in the U.S. and other markets. Gilead aims to set itself apart with a simple daily pill to deliver a multidrug treatment based on its blockbuster hopeful sofosbuvir. AbbVie is testing an oral combo that requires patients to take pills twice a day. Both companies could launch their drugs next year.

"The idea is Gilead will be first, AbbVie will be on roughly the same timeline, Bristol-Myers will be somewhere after that," Marshall Gordon, a New York-based analyst with Legg Mason Inc.'s ClearBridge Investments affiliate told Bloomberg. He added: "AbbVie is not getting nearly the credit that Gilead is. It's funny to me that it's a foregone conclusion that Gilead has dominated the market."

The race is obviously too close and early to call.

- check out Bloomberg's article

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