Rethinking Idenix Pharma in Wake of Bristol's Hep C Blow Up

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY) confirmed my previously reported suspicions by abruptly halting a Phase II trial of BMS-094 (formerly INX-189) -- a nucleotide polymerase inhibitor, or "nuc," for the treatment of hepatitis C. One patient in the study experienced major cardiovascular toxicity, forcing Bristol-Myers to stop dosing BMS-094.

The company has provided few follow-up details but it appears as if BMS-094 is dead.

That means Bristol-Myers' $2.5 billion acquisition of Inhibitex (from where BMS-094 originated) has proven to be a complete zero in less than seven months. I'm not sure if that's a mergers-and-acquisition disaster record, but it's probably close.

The demise of BMS-094 has also reshaped the Hep C landscape. Let's review who still stands and where. For some assistance, I turned to John Tucker, a scientific analyst with BioMedTracker, a division of Sagient Research. Tucker recently published an excellent overview on Hep C drugs in development and he's been all over BMS-094 and its implications.

At this point, combining a "nuc" with an NS5A inhibitor and the generic antiviral drug ribavirin seems to be the most promising "all oral" Hep C regimen in clinical development. This makes Bristol-Myers' daclatasvir, an NS5A inhibitor essentially useless on its own. The company's other later-stage hep C drug candidates -- the non-nucleoside polymerase inhibitor BMS-791325 and the protease inhibitor asunaprevir -- have only modest efficacy or toxicity issues, or both.

Bristol-Myers may continue to beg but I'm convinced Gilead Sciences ( GILD) has no interest in a daclatasvir partnership. As I noted recently, Gilead's nuc-NS5A combination -- GS-7977 and GS-5885 -- has made rapid clinical progress and will start pivotal trials this year. In sum, the BMS-094 blowup leaves Bristol-Myers up a proverbial creek in Hep C. Although this failure has little long-term financial impact, Bristol-Myers' apparent inability to foresee this compound's risks raises concerns about the company's R&D and business development capabilities.

Gilead emerges a big winner. I have long believed Gilead would be first to market with an all-oral Hep C regimen, but Bristol-Myers has handed the company a much bigger lead. (I also still doubt the size of the commercial market for Hep C, but that's another issue.)

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