Talk about uncanny timing, one day after Achillion Pharmaceuticals ( ACHN) rips higher on takeover speculation, the company announces the lifting of an FDA clinical hold on its lead hepatitis C drug candidate and the start of a new study with a second hepatitis C compound.
What an amazing coincidence!
Achillion shares are moving 35% higher to $5.75 in Tuesday's premarket. The stock gained 48% to $4.25 on Monday on the back of Merck's ( MRK) $3.9 billion acquisition of Idenix Pharmaceuticals ( IDIX) to bolster its hepatitis C drug pipeline. The market is betting one of Merck's hepatitis C competitors -- Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ), Abbvie ( ABBV), Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY) or Gilead Sciences ( GILD) -- will come knocking on Achillion's door.
The FDA lifted a clinical hold on sovaprevir, Achillion's protease inhibitor, to allow higher dosing in hepatitis C patients. Achillion also announced the start of patient dosing in an early study of ACH-3422, a nucleotide polymerase inhibitor. The conventional thinking is that so-called "nucs" are the linchpin of hepatitis C combination therapy. Gilead' Sovaldi is a nuc and will likely generate $9-10 billion in sales this year. Idenix is developing a nuc, which is why Merck acquired the company.