Idenix Pharma Buyout Likely: Survey

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wall Street investors remain bullish on hepatitis C drug stocks and by a wide margin believe Idenix Pharmaceuticals ( IDIX) will be acquired.

ISI Group biotech analyst Mark Schoenebaum held a lunch meeting Friday for 120 investors to discuss the current state of hepatitis C drug development. As part of his meeting, Schoenebaum surveyed his investor audience -- made up of 30% generalists, 20% arbs and 30% specialists -- on their views and opinions about the current red-hot topics in hepatitis C.

Asked if Idenix Pharma has a greater than 50% chance of being acquired, 79% of the investors responded in the affirmative, 21% said no.

The group was more evenly split on Achillion Pharmaceuticals' ( ACHN) chances for a takeout, with 49% leaning yes and 51% saying no.

Gilead Science's ( GILD) $11 billion acquisition of Pharmasset was the spark that ignited the recent run in Hep C drug stocks. Schoenebaum's buy-side investor crowd likes the blockbuster deal, with 64% predicting Gilead will create value with its purchase of Pharmasset. Thirty-six percent say Gilead is going to destroy shareholder value with this deal.

On a related note, 61% say Gilead shares are a buy today. Gilead shares rose 3 cents to $47.24 Friday and the stock is up about 16% for the year, leading all of the large-cap biotechs. Thirty-nine percent of Schoenebaum's respondents say Gilead is a sell at these levels.

Bristol-Myer Squibb's ( BMY) $2.5 billion purchase of Inhibitex ( INHX) is also viewed favorably by a wide margin, although a small majority (54%) of investors view Bristol as a sell at current valuation.

The size of the commercial opportunity for new all-oral Hep C treatment regimens is a much-debated topic these days. The investors at today's meeting generally fall into the bull camp, with 48% predicting worldwide Hep C drug sales between $8 billion and $10 billion by 2019.

Idenix shares neared Friday's close down 6% to $13.94 while Achillion was off 11.5% to $9.39.

--Written by Adam Feuerstein in Boston.

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