Bristol CEO says Gilead holding out on hep C tie-up

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) isn't giving up on pushing Gilead Sciences ($GILD) to move ahead with further study of the two companies' oral drugs as a combo treatment for the hepatitis C virus, with Bristol boss Lamberto Andreotti reiterating that joining forces could be best for patients and each of the drugmakers, Reuters reported.

In April a mid-stage study showed that a combo of Gilead's nucleotide inhibitor GS-7977 and Bristol's daclatasvir wiped out signs of hep C in 97% of patients with genotype 1 cases of hep C after 12 weeks of treatment--impressive results that generated enthusiasm among analysts and clinicians. However, Gilead, which acquired 7977 in its $10.8 billion Pharmasset buyout, hasn't budged amid calls from Bristol and clinicians to agree to a Phase III program involving the companies' experimental drugs.

As Reuters reports, Gilead has focused on developing oral drug combos against the liver-damaging disease from its own pipeline. But Bristol, which made a smaller Hep C gamble of its own with the $2.5 billion buyout of Inhibitex in January, is obviously keen on teaming up in the race to develop all-oral treatment for hep C, which is typically treated with injections of interferon, which causes miserable side effects. With the Pharmasset purchase, Gilead put itself at the front of the pack of oral Hep C drug developers that also includes Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX), Abbott Labs ($ABT) and the small developer Achillion Pharmaceuticals ($ACHN).

"[Bristol and Gilead] have a different point of view about whether to enter Phase III (trials) with that combination," Andreotti said, as quoted by Reuters. "We believe, for both patients and companies, it is better to move forward" with the late-stage studies.

With some 170 million hepatitis C patients around the world, and many patients forgoing treatment with existing drugs, the patient-friendly oral drugs are eventually expected to generate $20 billion in annual revenue. Gilead has clearly bet hugely to grab its share of that market.

- check out Reuters' report