J&J and Bristol-Myers ally on another potential hep C blockbuster

Just a few months after Johnson & Johnson joined R&D forces with Bristol-Myers Squibb on an interferon-free combo for hepatitis C, the two companies have broadened their development pact to include another one-two interferon-free punch targeted at the virus. And Medivir, a Swedish company partnered with J&J's ($JNJ) Janssen R&D Ireland on one of the key ingredients, saw its stock price pop this morning as it spread the news.

The two research powerhouses will conduct a drug-drug interaction study on J&J's TMC435 with BMS-986094 (formerly INX-189), a hep C treatment Bristol-Myers ($BMY) nabbed with its $2.5 billion buyout of Inhibitex back in February. And as they study the future potential of that combo they say they'll be ready to push immediately into a late-stage study of a TMC435/daclatasvir if their mid-stage study this year goes well.

BMS-986094 is a nucleotide polymerase NS5B inhibitor, like Gilead's ($GILD) closely watched 7977, which inspired the $10.8 billion buyout of Pharmasset. The protease inhibitor TMC435 blocks an enzyme the virus needs to replicate while BMS-986094 takes a different route to quell hep C. The prospects of a blockbuster business awaiting any developer which can market an interferon-free product has triggered a host of collaborations and buyouts as companies scramble to develop the most effective cocktail therapy that can work for a broad cross section of patients.

"We see the expanded clinical collaboration as a strong validation of TMC435, especially as we know of no other competing protease inhibitors running interferon-free combination trials with other direct-acting antivirals externally," which include polymerase inhibitors, noted Hans Jeppsson, an analyst at Danske Bank, according to a report in Bloomberg.

"This represents one of several strategies to explore TMC435 in interferon free regimens; a development we believe will be an important advancement in the HCV field for patients," said Medivir R&D chief Charlotte Edenius in a statement.  

- here's the press release
- get the report from Bloomberg