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J&J Open to Expanding Hepatitis C Cooperation With Vertex

April 20 (Bloomberg) -- Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit said it may explore widening cooperation on hepatitis C with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. that may develop in tandem with a separate partnership with Medivir AB on the disease.

“We remain open to see if we can expand our collaboration,” Gaston Picchio, vice president of Janssen’s global clinical virology and hepatitic disease area, said in an interview today in Barcelona, where he’s attending the European Association for the Study of the Liver annual meeting. “Vertex has announced plans for developing interferon-free therapies. We are partners, so that puts us in a better position to be a part of that,” should studies prove to be promising.

Vertex said on April 18 that it will start enrolling patients in a mid-stage study combining three medicines, excluding interferon, a core component of the current standard of care. Vertex and competitors including Gilead Sciences Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Abbott Laboratories are racing to develop next-generation treatments for hepatitis C that exclude interferon because of flu-like side effects.

Vertex and J&J collaborated to develop telaprevir, marketed as Incivek by Vertex in North America and as Incivo by Janssen in other regions including Europe. The drug was approved by regulators last year as a treatment for hepatitis C in combination with interferon and ribavirin.

Medivir Project

J&J, which has its headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is also developing the protease inhibitor TMC435 with Huddinge, Sweden-based Medivir, which has said mid-stage trials of the drug in interferon-free combinations with Gilead’s 7977 and with Bristol-Myers’s daclatasvir experimental drugs are starting in the second quarter.

While J&J and Medivir are also developing the TMC647 polymerase inhibitor, Vertex’s VX-222 compound in the same class of drugs is further along in development. VX-222 is one of the three drugs included in Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Vertex’s mid-stage interferon-free treatment study.

Meanwhile, J&J is also “committed” to improving the labeling of Incivo by conducting further trials that examine less frequent dosage as well as efficacy in patients also infected by the HIV virus and those who have had liver transplants, Picchio said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Makiko Kitamura in Barcelona via mkitamura1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net

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