Vertex Pharmaceuticals is teaming up with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals and GlaxoSmithKline in separate collaborations aimed at finding an all-oral, interferon-free therapy for the treatment of hepatitis C.
Vertex’s experimental drug candidate, VX-135, will be studied in combination with Janssen’s simepriver and GSK’s GSK2336805 in two separate mid-stage 12 week trials with the goal of ridding patients of the virus. The collaborations signal the intent by all three companies, to narrow the gap with Gilead, currently believed to be the front-runner in the race to bring to market an all-oral interferon free regimen.
Interferon injections, used in combination with already marketed hepatitis C drugs like Vertex’s own Incivek, are known for their flu-like side effects that sometimes lead patients to discontinue therapy. Some physicians have gone as far as to tell patients to hold off on using currently available treatments until better options become available.
In its pact with Janssen, Vertex entered into a non-exclusive collaboration to conduct a mid-stage trial combining its nucleotide polymerase inhibitor, VX-135, with Janssen’s protease inhibitor, simeprevir for 12 weeks.
In the second agreement, with GlaxoSmithKline, the two companies will combine Vertex’s VX-135 with GSK’s NS5A inhibitor, GSK2336805, in a 12 week mid-stage study.
Both trials are expected to begin in 2013 and the companies will jointly fund trial costs. There are no up-front or milestone payments associated with the agreements and the companies have agreed to examine the results of the mid-stage studies to determine whether to move forward.
Investors seemed pleased with the two pacts, which quelled some of the fears that Vertex was prioritizing Incivek combo regimens and not doing enough with its other hepatitis C assets.
Brian Abrahams, an analyst at Well Fargo Securities, wrote that he thinks this represents the best path forward for Vertex because it allows the company to explore VX-135 in combination with two different classes of drugs, “partnered with major pharmaceuticals companies who are fairly dependent on the success of these respective combinations to remain competitive in the all-oral hepatitis C virus race.”
November 02, 2012