HIV was transformed from a terminal illness into a chronic disease in wealthy countries in the late 1990s, once scientists learned to mix anti-viral drugs into a potent cocktail. That was supposed to hold the virus in check by attacking it from many different angles, keeping it from developing resistance to any one drug.
The same philosophy is now at work in hepatitis C, a chronic viral infection that causes liver damage. After years of polishing in the lab, San Diego-based Anadys Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ANDS) has positioned itself to make one of the key ingredients in what analysts see as a multi-billion dollar market opportunity.
Standard treatments for this disease, known as pegylated interferon alpha and ribavirin, have some drawbacks. They cause nasty flu-like symptoms, need to be taken almost a full year, and only cure a little more than one-third of patients. An estimated 170 million people worldwide have hepatitis C, although most skip medical help because the treatment is considered worse than the disease.
Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals hopes to encourage more patients to seek treatment with a protease inhibitor called telaprevir. It’s been shown in clinical trials to almost double the cure rate when combined with standard meds, while cutting the treatment time in half. This is prompting pharmaceutical and biotech companies to pile on, with 40 different hepatitis C drugs in development from three main classes—protease inhibitors, nucleoside polymerase inhibitors, and non-nucleoside polymerase inhibitors. Anadys says it has one of the best contenders in that last category, which it hopes will be a critical ingredient in an HIV-style cocktail that will be the future standard of care.
“This isn’t like statins for cholesterol, where one drug competes with the next,” says Anadys CEO Steve Worland. “This is like HIV, where combining several different classes is what makes them successful.”
Anadys was limping along like a lot of other biotech companies in January, with a stock price of less than $2, until it burst on investors’ radar screens in early January. From the first eight patients in a clinical trial of its ANA-598 drug, Anadys showed it was able to wipe out 99 percent of the hepatitis C virus from the blood (known as a 2.5 logarithmic reduction) within three days. That was at the lowest dose tested in the trial (200 milligrams) and it hopes to do even better at two higher doses, 400 and 800 milligrams.
At the time that data was released, that kind of potency was the best ever seen for a drug in this class, Worland says. The company’s stock more than doubled since the news was released, from $1.91 a share to $5.31 at yesterday’s close. That pegs Anadys’ market value at about $153 million.
Since then, Anadys has been upstaged by a competitor, … Next Page »
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