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Achillion CEO Needs to Deliver on Deal Talk

Stocks in this article: ACHN ANDS INHX IDIX GILD VRTX

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- It's a well-worn page in the investor conference presentation script: Biotech CEO takes stage and tells assembled audience of investors that his drugs have the makings to be best in class and that potential Big Pharma partners are all very interested in a deal.

This is pretty much what investors heard from Achillion Pharmaceuticals (ACHN) CEO Michael Kishbauch Wednesday during his twirl through the Stifel Nicolaus Healthcare Conference.

Achillion expects to release proof-of-concept data from studies of three different experimental hepatitis C drugs before the end of the year, said Kishbauch. Among the expected results are 12-week, early virologic response data from a mid-stage study of Achillion's experimental protease inhibitor ACH-1625 combined with interferon and ribavirin.

Interest from Big Pharma in licensing or acquiring Achillion's Hep C drugs has increased since a spring Hep C research meeting in Europe, Kishbauch claims.

"Our talks have become intense," he said.

Talk is cheap, of course. Kishbauch leaves out the part in which Achillion is just one of many smaller Hep C drug developers desperate to find a big-moneyed partner. Anadys Pharmaceuticals (ANDS), Idenix Pharmaceuticals (IDIX) and Inhibitex (INHX), to name a few, are all saying singing the same tune.

This is not to say that deals won't get done or that Kishbauch is lying, it's just that for all the endless chatter and optimism about buyouts or lucrative partnerships amongst Hep C drug developers, actual deal activity has been rather anemic.

It's much easier to talk about deals than getting them done, apparently.

And it's not like Achillion hasn't gone down this road before. Achillion licensed a promising Hep C drug to Gilead Sciences (GILD) but that drug blew up in 2007 due to safety problems and was discontinued.

The Hep C treatment market is changing fast. The launch this spring of Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (VRTX) Incivek and Merck's (MRK) Victrelis dramatically improved the outlook for patients, but better drugs, better combinations of drugs, are on the way. Achillion is late to the game but hopes to play catch up by developing drugs that can be combined together to create more effective, all oral treatment options. (That means getting rid of weekly shots of interferon.)

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