Gilead's blockbuster hep C gamble takes center stage at EASL

Next week Gilead Sciences will release some of the most eagerly awaited trial data of the year when its clinical development team moves to the center ring at the European Association for the Study of Liver meeting in Barcelona. In the spotlight: New patient data for 7977, the hepatitis C treatment that spurred the $10.8 billion acquisition of Pharmasset and made hep C the hottest disease in biotech.

In early February, Gilead ($GILD) executives looked like stars when human data indicated that the treatment had wiped out the virus in just a few weeks among treatment-resistant patients. Shares surged. Then two weeks later there was evidence of relapses. Gilead shares plunged. Now that roller coaster ride will continue, one way or another, as investigators report the responses among dozens of patients.

"They will be there as one of the key players to treat a very large unmet medical need in hepatitis C, and one of the first players," Leerink Swann's Joshua Schimmer tells Bloomberg in its preview of the scientific meeting.

Schimmer counts himself as an optimist. And RBC Capital Market's Michael Yee has spelled out the upside of a successful development program, with potential sales of $3 billion to $4 billion by 2018, factoring in a possible 2013 approval. It's those kind of figures that have captured the attention of the investment community. A win here would make the Pharmasset buyout look like a steal. A loss would make it look like one of the dumbest moves in the decade. There doesn't seem to be many people gambling on something in between.

- here's the story from Bloomberg