Gilead Shares Rise on Hepatitis C Treatment

By Brett Chase  NOV 12, 2012 9:16 AM

The company says a combination therapy of Gilead's drugs showed 100% cure in a study of previously untreated patients. Abbott also reports promising results as a big medical meeting begins.


MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Shares of Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) are rising after the drug maker said a combination of its therapies were 100% effective in curing a small group of previously untreated patients for hepatitis C.

The finding and other data will be presented at a medical meeting in Boston this week. Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) showed that it is neck and neck with Gilead in the race for a better hepatitis C therapy by announcing its own impressive results over the weekend. Abbott said it cured 97.5% of patients who had not previously been treated with any drugs for the liver-wasting virus.   

Despite the close race, Gilead shares rose about 11% pre-market Monday, while Abbott rose less than 1%. (Abbott’s market cap is about twice the size of Gilead’s.) Gilead rose to $71.92 in pre-market trading. The stock is already up 60% on the year, through Friday’s close. Abbott traded at $65.10 in early trading before US markets opened.

Both companies reported positive results in treating other groups of patients, including those who are the hardest to cure. But the most important data point to be announced is the so-called treatment naive patients, ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum says.

“This was the key datapoint that the Street was waiting for,” the analyst says. Expectations were for about 90% cure, he adds.

Gilead said it treated study patients with two experimental drugs, sofosbuvir (formerly known as GS-7977) and another experimental medicine, GS-5885, plus the older therapy ribavirin. The group of patients showing 100% cure rates in the study were those with genotype 1 chronic hepatitis C who have not been treated in the past.

This group is the biggest population of hepatitis C patients in the US and western Europe, Schoenebaum says.

Both Gilead and Abbott have more clinical study to conduct before they can apply to sell their drugs.  The goal for the next generation of hepatitis C treatments is to develop an all-oral regimen that doesn’t require an injection of the older medicine interferon, which causes flu-like side effects. It’s the goal of Gilead, Abbott and other rivals, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX).  

Demand for hepatitis treatments is expected to rise as many people infected even decades ago may have the virus and not realize it. As many as 170 million people worldwide have chronic infections and more than 350,000 people die from the virus each year, according to estimates. More than 3 million people in the US have chronic infections, according to government figures.

The payoff for the company that successfully brings a new treatment to the market is a potential blockbuster drug that generates billions of dollars per year. Gilead paid an eye-popping $11 billion for Pharmasset earlier this year to gain that company’s experimental hepatitis C treatments.

As impressive as Gilead’s findings are, Abbott’s combination therapy also looks strong, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Joel Sendek notes.

Unlike Gilead, Abbott didn’t pay the giant premium to acquire its experimental medicines. Abbott’s hepatitis program will be very important going forward as that company splits in two. Abbott is in the midst of spinning off its drug business into a new company that will be called AbbVie -- a move expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The companies are presenting their study results at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston.

Twitter: @brettchase

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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