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BioLineRx: Tuesday's Hot Hep C Drug Stock

Updated with current stock price.

JERUSALEM (TheStreet) -- A tiny Israeli drug maker that few investors have ever heard of announces a licensing deal Tuesday with a French company similarly unknown, but the deal involves an oral hepatitis C pill so shares of the Israeli company doubling in value.

Just another day inside Wall Street's ever-expanding hepatitis C bubble.

BioLineRx (BLRX) shares are up $3.45, or 104%, to $6.75 after announcing the licensing deal for hepatitis C drug BL-8020, developed by the privately held French firm Genoscience. Almost 5 million BioLineRx shares have traded hands Tuesday already, blowing away the stock's average daily volume of a miniscule 3,600 shares.

Terms of the BioLineRx-Genoscience deal were not disclosed.

Little is known about BL-8020, which is still in preclinical testing, meaning the drug hasn't yet been studied in humans. But with all of Wall Street looking for the next hot hepatitis C drug stock, the mere mention of a potentially new oral therapy for the viral liver disease was enough to make BioLineRx the hot speculative biotech trade for Tuesday morning, fueled by a robust Twitter buzz.

BL-8020 may belong to the class of direct-acting antiviral agents known as protease inhibitors, according to an overview of the drug discovery research in hepatitis C noted on Genoscience's web site. Both Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (VRTX) Incivek and Merck's (MRK) Victrelis are both protease inhibitors and most of the other big Hep C players, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Gilead Sciences (GILD), Abbott (ABT) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), already have protease inhibitors in development.

Achillion Pharmaceuticals (ACHN) is also developing a protease inhibitor and has been seeking a partner for the drug or a suitor to buy the entire company.

If you missed Tuesday's BioLineRx move, the next Hep C-related stock action could come early next month when Bristol-Myers Squibb is expected to close out its $2.5 billion tender offer for Inhibitex (INHX). Around the same time, Inhibitex (or Bristol) is expected to announce early data from a phase II study of INX-189, the company's lead hepatitis C drug candidate.

Investors are also waiting for Idenix Pharmaceuticals (IDIX) to announce the FDA's decision on lifting a clinical hold on IDX184, which will allow the company to push the hepatitis C drug into additional clinical studies. [Or perhaps, clear the way for Idenix to be acquired.]

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