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Inhibitex Soars as Investors See Another Pharmasset in the Making

Updated with stock price.

ATLANTA ( TheStreet) -- Shares of Inhibitex (INHX) more than doubled Friday morning after the company released promising new data on its hepatitis C drug candidate.

The Inhibitex drug INX-189 belongs to the same "nucleoside" class of potent oral hepatitis C drugs as Pharmasset's (VRUS) heralded PSI-7977. The difference, of course, is that Inhibitex's market value is $300 million, or at least it was going into Friday's trading. Pharmasset's market value is close to $6 billion.

Investors are hoping that the magical Hep C pixie dust that has made Pharmasset the best-performing biotech stock this year will work its charms on Inhibitex as well.

Inhibitex shares soared 127% to $9.01 in mid-day trading after the company reported a 4.25 log drop in Hep C viral load after 7 days of treatment with a 200 mg dose of INX-189 in treatment-naive patients. No serious adverse events were reported.

That result is comparable to the viral load decline demonstrated by Pharmasset's PSI-7977 in an earlier study.

Nucleoside or "nucs" have become the belles of the Hep C drug ball because of their potential as a backbone of future all-oral combination Hep C therapy. Pharmasset's nuc PSI-7977 has garnered the most attention, but companies like Inhibitex and Idenix Pharmaceuticals ( IDIX) are also developing their own Hep C nucs.

Pharmasset shares were down 4% to $74.80 in early Friday trading, likely due to competitive concerns stemming from the INX-189 data.

In Friday's release, Inhibitex said it was moving forward with new studies of INX-189 including one in combination with an another undisclosed direct-acting antiviral Hep C drug.

The new Inhibitex data on INX-189 comes on the eve of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) annual meeting, which will feature important presentations of new hepatitis C drug research.

--Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.

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Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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