Analysts tap Gilead as front-runner in high-stakes race for hep C blockbuster

Almost any drug development race comes with a regular stream of reports from a legion of analysts eager to handicap the competition, calling out the leaders and mocking the laggards. And hepatitis C--where a lineup of ambitious developers is jockeying for the pole position with an oral, interferon-free approach--has offered some of the most colorful commentary. 

Today's darling for hep C front-runner: Gilead Sciences ($GILD), which wowed the analysts with the latest data demonstrating that its therapy cleared the virus in all 25 patients in one study, a stellar 100% rate. And it's getting star treatment even as Abbott ($ABT) and Bristol-Myers ($BMY) came up with some good numbers of their own. 

"Gilead will likely be the first to market with a simple and efficacious one pill, once-daily regimen," RBC Capital Markets analyst Michael Yee noted, according to a Bloomberg report. "All this adds up so far to supporting our thesis that Gilead has a $5 billion-plus drug."

"Gilead is the clear leader at this point," Imran Babar, an analyst at Cowen, told The Wall Street Journal. Even some of Gilead's competitors are clearly impressed.

"It's a little premature to declare any regimen victorious because we haven't seen all the data yet," Achillion ($ACHN) VP Joe Truitt told the Journal. But…"Gilead is in a lead position today."

The stakes are mountainously high. Some project that hepatitis C can soon develop into a $20 billion market opportunity. The leader in this race has a first shot as the new front-line therapy, as Executive Editor Ryan McBride has been writing about extensively in recent days.

- here's the story from Bloomberg
- read the report from the Wall Street Journal

Special Reports: Hep C pill race report 2012: Gilead, others rush toward pharma gold | Gilead Sciences - The Biggest R&D Spenders in Biotech

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