Rethinking Idenix Pharma in Wake of Bristol's Hep C Blow Up
Second, Idenix completed a major secondary offering only two days after the Novartis breakup. Idenix sold 22 million shares at $8.00 per share or 28% below recent highs. Although I generally support equity issuances at management's discretion, the company still had at least $90 million in the bank. Shareholders should feel justifiably frustrated at this seemingly unnecessary rush dilution of the existing investor base. I worry that the timing signals dark clouds on the horizon.
Right before the Bristol-Myers news, Vertex Pharmaceuticals(VRTX) announced impressive early clinical data for ALS-2200, a nucleotide analogue licensed from Alios BioPharma. After seven days of dosing, the eight treated patients showed a median 4.54 log reduction in viral load. That's near complete eradication of virus, for those of you unfamiliar with the logarithmic scale.
Unfortunately for Vertex, ALS-2200 has not cleared any meaningful long-term safety hurdles and the drug remains years behind Gilead's compounds. I would put Vertex on the "watch and wait" list, but that's it.
As I have discussed before, it's hard for me to get excited about the other Hep C players. Abbott(ABT) has a seemingly decent trio of drug candidates in later-stage development, but the impending spin off of AbbVie -- Abbott's pharma business -- makes the new company nearly completely dependent on the multi-blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira.
Johnson & Johnson's(JNJ) TMC-435 looks solid but lacks an obvious companion unless the company partners with Gilead or physicians, on their own, decide to combine TMC-435 with Gilead's GS-7977 into an "off label" all-oral Hep C regimen -- an idea that BioMedTracker's Tucker believes is a real possibility. Finally, everyone wants me to like Achillion Pharmaceuticals, but there is no shortage of NS5A or protease inhibitors -- the company has two NS5As and a protease inhibitor -- so I can't get that excited.
Ironically given the longstanding investor skepticism, Gilead appears likely to dominate the Hep C market over the next decade. I still worry the company vastly overpaid for Pharmasset, but that concern will be meaningful only if something goes wrong and investors are looking for a cudgel with which to beat management. Otherwise, it's time for investors to start thinking logically about the real size of the Hep C treatment market. It's going to be hard for any company to make big money if there aren't enough Hep C patients to treat.