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J&J signs $1bn deal with Achillion for hepatitis C therapies

Will license three candidates from Achillion Pharma

J&J 

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has fleshed outs its portfolio of hepatitis C virus drugs, licensing three candidates from Achillion Pharma in a deal valued at $1.1bn.

The agreement - which sits alongside a $225m equity stake in Achillion - adds NS5A inhibitor ACH-3102 and NS3/4A protease inhibitor sovaprevir, which are in phase II testing, along with NS5B polymerase inhibitor ACH-3422 which is in phase I.

The primary asset in the licensing deal is ACH-3102, which has already been granted fast-track designation by the FDA.

J&J already has one new-generation oral HCV therapy on the market, its NS3/4A protease inhibitor Olysio (simeprevir), but could do with additional drugs in its portfolio in order to compete in the marketplace with rivals such as Gilead Sciences and AbbVie.

Gilead is already selling a dual drug regimen for HCV called Harvoni (sofosbuvir/ledipasvir) that is growing quickly in the marketplace, while AbbVie is also seeing sales of its combination therapy of Viekirax (ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir) and Exviera (dasabuvir) rise quickly.

For J&J, the availability of all-oral treatment regimens from a single source means that Olysio is under pressure and showed signs of weakness in the first quarter that are likely to be exacerbated as competition gets more intense in the HCV category.

In the US, sales of Olysio fell from $291m in the first-quarter of 2014 to $98m, with global sales down a third to $234m.

With Achillion's portfolio, J&J gets access to a combination regimen that in trials has been shown to clear HCV in as little as six weeks, shorter than the eight weeks currently required with Harvoni and Viekirax/Exviera. 

In a statement, J&J said: "A key objective of the collaboration will be to develop a short-duration, highly effective, pan-genotypic, oral regimen for the treatment of HCV."

J&J's pharma subsidiary Janssen will be responsible for all development costs within the partnership as well as all the costs associated with commercialisation of the HCV assets.

The agreement with J&J gives Achillion the big partner it was always going to need to compete in the HCV sector, and will allow the company to focus its internal efforts on developing complement factor D inhibitors for diseases such as paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH), acute haemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), and myasthenia gravis.

Article by
Phil Taylor

20th May 2015

From: Sales

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