BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Roche's (RHHBY) purchase of Anadys (ANDS) likely provides the third drug in what might be the first (but not necessarily best) all-oral, interferon-free therapy for hepatitis C to begin phase III studies.
Being first to market with an all-oral Hep C therapy is important to Roche because the company has a lot to lose by lagging behind. Roche sells Pegasys, the leading interferon used to treat hepatitis C today, with sales of 1.1 billion Swiss francs through the first nine months of the year. Roche executives aren't stupid; they look ahead a few years and see Pegasys sales going away, similar to the patent cliffs hitting other Big Pharma drug blockbusters.
If Roche wants to maintain or grow its Hep C franchise, it has to figure out a way to develop an all-oral (interferon-free) therapy -- and fast.
One way of doing this is by acquiring or partnering Hep C drugs others consider to be weak or non-competitive on their own. That description fits Anadys' lead drug setrobuvir, which for $230 million, Roche is acquiring at a relatively low price.InterMune's (ITMN) danoprevir, which Roche acquired last year, is also seen as a weak Hep C drug. Roche could start relatively quickly a phase III study against Hep C that combines three oral drugs -- setrobuvir (from Anadys), RG7128 (partnered with Pharmasset) and Merck's (MRK - Get Report) currently approved Hep C drug Victrelis, predicts Brian Skorney, biotech analyst at Brean Murray, Carret & Co.