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Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated (VRTX - Analyst Report) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY - Analyst Report) recently entered into a non-exclusive agreement for the phase II development of once-daily all-oral treatment regimens combining Vertex Pharma’s VX-135 and Bristol-Myers’ daclatasvir for the treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections.

Terms of the Deal

The companies said that Vertex Pharma would conduct two phase II studies with the combination. This includes an initial study that will be initiated in the second quarter of 2013 in treatment-naïve patients with genotype 1 HCV infection.

Once data from this study is available, Vertex Pharma will commence a study, potentially in the second half of the year, in treatment-naïve patients with genotype 1, 2 or 3 HCV infection, including patients with cirrhosis. The studies will evaluate the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics and viral cure rates (SVR4 and SVR12) of several all-oral regimens of VX-135 plus daclatasvir dosed once daily.

Co-formulation activities will also be conducted by Vertex Pharma so as to explore the possibility of developing a once-daily fixed-dose combination regimen.

Our Take

We are positive on this deal which reflects the commitment of both companies towards developing new therapies for HCV. The HCV market represents immense commercial potential with more than 170 million HCV patients across the world.

Vertex Pharma has a strong presence in the HCV market – in addition to marketing Incivek, the company is working on improving treatment options for HCV patients. Incivek, which was launched in 2011, had initially seen strong sales. However, sales have been declining as patients await better treatments.

Vertex Pharma has non-exclusive deals for VX-135 with other companies as well including Janssen and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK - Analyst Report). Another HCV candidate in Vertex Pharma’s pipeline is VX-222.

Meanwhile, Bristol-Myers is also looking to build a presence in the HCV market. In addition to daclatasvir (phase III), Bristol-Myers’ HCV pipeline includes peginterferon lambda (phase III) and asunaprevir (phase III).

Currently, both Vertex Pharma and Bristol-Myers are Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stocks. Biogen (BIIB - Analyst Report) looks more attractive at present with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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