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Biotech Stock Mailbag: All You Need to Know About Hep C Drugs

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Let's roll with this week's Biotech Stock Mailbag.

Jackson P. asks, "Is there any data that has not leaked from EASL which will be important to the hepatitis C stocks?"

The EASL meeting kicks off officially April 18 and runs through April 22. As Jackson notes, I've written a lot about selective disclosure of research abstracts and data leaks leading up to the EASL meeting, but let's now focus attention on investor expectations for new data to be presented at the meeting and what it may mean for hepatitis C drug stocks.

First, just a bit of background to help frame the issues: Today's standard of care for treatment-naive hepatitis C patients is 12 weeks of Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (VRTX) Incivek (taken three times daily) plus six months of injectable interferon (once weekly) and a daily oral dose of ribavirin. Cure rates with the Incivek regimen range from 75% to 80%. For patients who achieve a rapid, early response to Incivek therapy, cure rates can get as high as 90%.

Incivek was, and still is, a breakthrough for hepatitis C therapy because cure rates with interferon and ribavirin alone were only in the 40%-50% range and treatment lasted twice as long -- 48 weeks versus 24 weeks.

Less than a year after Incivek's approval, the hepatitis C world has moved on to fixate on "all-oral" therapies -- combination of drugs that no longer require the bothersome weekly injections of interferon. That's what the EASL meeting is all about.

Investors are insanely focused on two studies of Gilead Sciences' (GILD) newly acquired hepatitis C drug GS-7977. Both studies enroll treatment-naive hepatitis C patients and treat them with a combination of '7977 and ribavirin. [That's two pills, once per day.]

The first study, dubbed "Electron," enrolled 25 patients with genotype 1 form of the Hep C virus, the most difficult form of the virus to treat and also the most prevalent in North America. Patients were treated with '7977 plus ribavirin for 12 weeks, then followed to see if they were cured, meaning no detectable levels of the hepatitis C virus remained in their body.

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