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EASL Backs Down, Will Publicly Disclose Key Hep C Data

Stocks in this article: GILD BMY ABT IDIX VRTX MRK

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The European Association for the Study of the Liver, better known as EASL, has backed down and will no longer unfairly and selectively disclose potentially stock-moving hepatitis C clinical data ahead of its important and closely followed conference next month.

In a total reverse of its previous policy, EASL said Thursday that research abstracts for its International Liver Congress, taking place April 18-22 in Barcelona, would be made publicly available online on April 4. Clinical data in the abstracts will not be under embargo, meaning journalists will be allowed to report on them.

"EASL is making these changes in light of recent criticism of its proposed policy, which suggests 'selective distribution' of officially accepted clinical data in advance of the Congress would make our proposed embargo policy untenable," EASL said in a statement issued Thursday.

The EASL meeting is where Gilead Sciences (GILD), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), Abbott (ABT), Idenix Pharmaceuticals (IDIX), Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) and Merck (MRK) are among the companies expected to present new clinical data on experimental hepatitis C therapies. Therefore, the meeting is as vitally important to hepatitis C doctors and patients as it is to investors.

Yet under its old policy, EASL wanted to provide an advance look at potentially market-moving hepatitis C drug data to the medical society's members or registered attendees of the EASL meeting -- a group which includes hedge fund/mutual fund portfolio managers and sell-side analysts, all of whom can pay for early access.

EASL had planned to selectively distribute hepatitis C drug research abstracts to these folks today. The same documents were not going to be made available to the public, which meant that a select group of investors would have had access to potentially stock-moving clinical data while a majority of investors were to be kept in the dark.

In columns published Tuesday and Wednesday, I criticized EASL's abstract distribution policy as being misguided, unfair and quite frankly unworkable. Smarter medical and scientific groups like the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) realized years ago that trying to compartmentalize research abstracts was futile. Information cannot be selectivity disclosed and expected not to leak, especially information that will weigh on the market valuations of biotech and drug firms involved in new hepatitis C drug research.

EASL, to its credit, has now admitted the unfairness of its policy and took the necessary corrective steps.

In its statement Thursday, EASL said it "accepts that we must address this issue, and we acknowledge the efforts of several individuals to draw this to our attention."

--Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Adam Feuerstein.

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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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