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just made it even easier for rivals to work on Hepatitis C drugs.

The California-based pharmaceutical company Tuesday announced that it had granted a nonexclusive license to privately-held


to develop drugs to fight the Hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV. But unlike previous license arrangements, this is the first time Chiron has provided a "no entry cost" license for use of its HCV technology.

Under the terms of the agreement, Chiron has virtually eliminated the barriers to entry. Prosetta -- or any other company that wants a license -- does not have to make any up-front or annual payments to perform research using Chiron's HCV patents, only milestone and royalty payments if a treatment is developed.

In response, shares of Chiron fell 7 cents, or 0.2%, to $42.59.

"Chiron's policy of making its HCV technology broadly available has served as a paradigm for responsible guardianship of pioneering science," said Howard Pien, Chiron's chairman and CEO. "Chiron has enabled more than 15 companies to conduct research into finding new ways to detect and treat this life-threatening disease."

Chiron has employed nonexclusive licenses on its technology to allow a number of companies to work on HCV fighters at the same time. Last year, Chiron granted nonexclusive rights to

Gilead Sciences

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Vertex Pharmaceuticals

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, among others.

Chiron was the first company to identify HCV in 1987 and holds scores of patents on a variety of related technologies until 2015. But despite the fact that 17 years have passed since the discovery of HCV, only half of the 170 million people infected globally respond to existing HCV treatments.

By allowing more companies to use its technology -- and by eliminating the need to pay upfront fees -- Chiron hopes to discover better treatments and technologies for the disease. The company has a number of tests that can screen blood donations for HCV and said it is currently conducting a pair of Phase 1 trials for HCV vaccine candidates.